Police in Colombia arrested a Cuban national illegally present in the country on Tuesday after communications with Islamic State-affiliated individuals through the encrypted app Telegram revealed he was plotting a jihadist attack on the capital, Bogotá.
Authorities had deported 46-year-old Raúl Gutiérrez Sánchez twice—in 2015 and 2017—before his arrest this week, according to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. This time, however, his arrest was not related to his illegal status in the country, but to his ties to an unnamed Moroccan individual that he communicated with via Telegram, often the Islamic State (ISIS) sympathizers’ preferred encrypted app.
Law enforcement released conversations between Gutiérrez and the unnamed individual in which the two plotted an attack on the U.S. embassy in Bogotá.
“Allah will receive you in jannah (paradise) with open arms,” the unidentified man wrote to Gutiérrez, according to conversations released by Colombian police. “Do it in the name of ISIS. Look at the brother in the United States, in New York, who ran over the infidels. He did it without the help of any organization.”
The text appears to refer to Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek national who entered the United States on a “diversity” visa and killed eight with a rented truck in New York in October. Saipov was captured alive and demanded authorities provide him with an Islamic State flag in his hospital room. He pled “not guilty” to the charges against him, despite his crime being caught on video.
The message to Gutiérrez went on, saying, “The brothers in England who stabbed and ran [people] over did not do it with the help of ISIS, but did do it in its name. I just ask that you do it in the name of ISIS.”
In phone conversations, the police added in a press conference, Gutiérrez and his Islamic State source discussed building explosives to use within Colombia. The two had agreed to conduct the attack on the U.S. embassy on March 13, the day he was arrested. Gutiérrez is facing charges of terrorism and conspiracy, which he has pleaded “not guilty” against.
A Bogotá prosecutor told reporters that Gutiérrez targeted the U.S. embassy “to kill American citizens in order to strengthen religious extremist groups.”
El Tiempo notes that foreign law enforcement agencies helped Colombia identify and arrest the suspect; the Miami Herald identifies the United States as one of those countries. Colombia is one of America’s closest allies in the hemisphere.
The Islamic State has promoted itself to potential Hispanic recruits for years, claiming that Spain is a rightful part of the “Islamic State” because of the medieval presence of Muslims on the Iberian peninsula. Islamic State propaganda going back as far as 2014 identifies Spain as “al-Andalus” and encourages Spanish speakers in their native languages to take up arms against their governments. In 2014, ISIS propaganda encouraged Hispanics to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the “caliphate” that, at the time, included cities like Raqqa, the “capital” of the failed state.
By 2017, when the group had lost most of its territory, propaganda aimed at Spanish speakers instead encouraged attacks around the world to bring attention to the group.
“If you can’t make the hijra [journey] to the Islamic State, carry out jihad where you are; jihad doesn’t have borders,” a jihadist identified as “Abu Lais Al Qurdubi” says in a 2017 video. “Don’t forget the Muslim blood spilled during the Inquisition. … Al-Andalus will return to what it once was: the land of the caliphate.”
As the Cuban government places extreme limitations on the free expression of faith, Islamic radicals have largely failed to attract any attention in that country. To the extent that the atheist communist Castro regime has ties to radical Islam, it is in its public support of Iran and its proxy, dictator Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Cuba and Iran enjoy such close ties that rumors circulated last year that Cuban torture agents had joined the fight in Syria on behalf of Assad, claims the Castro regime denied.