A former Guantánamo prisoner had been using the cafeteria of Madrid’s largest mosque to recruit Islamist extremists to join the Islamic State in waging jihad in the Middle East, an investigation following his June arrest has revealed.
Spanish law enforcement arrested fifteen men accused of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State in June, including Moroccan national Lahcen Ikassrien, who had arrived in Spain after spending time under arrest at Guantánamo Bay. Spanish newspaper El Pais reports that now, as the High Court releases details of their investigation before the trial, it has become clear that Ikassrien was running an Islamist sub-organization working in tandem with the Islamic State from within the largest mosque in Madrid.
Ikassrien is described as the “charismatic leader” of the Al-Andalus Brigade, thus named from the formerly Muslim southern Spanish region of Andalucía. The operation used the Mezquita de la M-30, the largest mosque in the capital, as a recruitment facility, slowly introducing potential recruits to the tenets of radical Islam and convincing them to join the Islamic State. Ikassrien is described as using the cafeteria as a social center to identify and target recruits.
A number of family members of men who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, or remained in Spain but became radicalized, told authorities that their relatives or friends had clearly taken up a more intense understanding of Sharia law since meeting and interacting with Ikassrien. El Pais notes that Ikassrien was free to organize the Islamist group after being acquitted by a Spanish court in 2006, and had even sued the Spanish government for damages after his initial post-Guantánamo arrest. He had initially been arrested in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Taliban and placed in Guantánamo.
At least nine men are believed to have joined the Islamic State thanks to the Al-Andalus Brigade, according to Spanish publication Libertad Digital. The publication also notes that the brigade appears to have been active since 2011 and had ties with Islamist cells in Belgium, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.
Authorities also noted that in Spain, as well as in much of the West, the jihadists often used social media to connect with others who may have had strong inclinations towards radical Islam. Spanish newspaper ABC reports today that social media and prisons with high Muslim populations were high on the list of recruitment centers and tools, in addition to mosques.