Suspected Leader of Barcelona Terrorist Cell Came to Spain Illegally by Boat

Closeup of a Kalashnikov MKK-104 assault rifle with bullets. 7.62x39 mm. Modern AK-47.
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An Algerian linked to the Islamic State who was arrested by Spanish police and is believed to have led a terrorist cell in Barcelona came to Spain as an illegal immigrant.

The Spanish National Police say that the Algerian, known as the “Sheikh”, arrived by boat at the end of last March as an illegal immigrant and then headed to Barcelona where he set up a terrorist cell and plotted to carry out an attack using Kalashnikov rifles.

Police uncovered and foiled the potential terror attack after it was found that a member of the cell was inquiring about purchasing automatic rifles and was in the final stages of doing so, newspaper El Mundo reports.

Spanish police and the European police agency Europol arrested the five cell members on Wednesday, with four arrests in Barcelona and one in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

Searches also found other weapons in the possession of the suspects, including machetes and roughly 70 rounds of ammunition.

According to investigators, the Sheikh has a long history of radicalism and was arrested in Turkey in 2016 when he attempted to enter Islamic State-controlled territory to join the terror group.

After his release by Turkish authorities, the Sheikh went on to travel to several countries including his native Algeria, Tanzania, and Malaysia, where he is thought to have helped recruit new members for the Islamic State.

Spanish police also say that the Sheikh surrounded himself with young Algerians in Barcelona who engaged in the organised robbery of tourists, and that several of the young men showed signs of Islamic radicalisation.

Barcelona has been a hub of radical Islamic terrorist activity for several years, with an attack taking place in 2017 in and around the city leaving 14 dead and 80 injured.

It was later revealed that the terrorists involved in the attacks had intended to hit multiple targets, including the Catholic basilica of La Sagrada Familia.

Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam who is thought to have been the mastermind behind the attack, had been ordered to be deported in 2014 after serving a prison sentence for drug smuggling, but was allowed to remain in the country because judges deemed his deportation a violation of human rights.


Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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