The truth about the imam of Ripoll – Part 3. Público
The CNI recruited Es Satty in 2014 in exchange for not deporting him and helped him become the imam of Ripoll
Article translated by MILFORD EDGE @milfordedge (barbaryfigs)
In March 2012, after being transferred from Castellón jail to Ceuta to stand trial on drug trafficking offences, the imam of Ripoll toned down his radical Islamist attitude and kept a low profile for fear of being deported to Morocco, and in April began the visits from the Civil Guard. Two years later, he received a fourth recruitment visit, this time from secret service agents, who had been monitoring his ideological progression in prison. The CNI now denies this.
Abdelbaki Es Satty’s long career as a police informant ended with his recruitment by the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) in exchange for avoiding deportation from Spain on completion of a four-year prison sentence for drug trafficking having been arrested in 2010 driving a Mercedes Sprinter van containing 136 kilos of hashish with which he intended to board the Ceuta-Algeciras ferry.
His recruitment by the CNI is actually nothing extraordinary. Es Satty’s defence that he had been forced to transport the consignment by an Islamist group made him an attractive potential source of information about terrorist plots and recruiting a member of a jihadist cell in prison, especially one in fear of being sent back to his country where he risks a much worse punishment, is a standard scenario in the CNI recruitment manual: Es Satty was a target with undeniable links to the threat to be eradicated (jihadism) and susceptible to coercion to collaborate (deportation).
What is really strange is the effort that the CNI has made to deny that it wanted to recruit him it, argue that he was only interrogated and state that he never actually worked for them, all because what you want to hide is the most relevant fact: how long did he remain an informant. The CNI would not even admit to having interviewed him in prison until it was leaked to the press – probably a stray shot in the battle between Villarejo and the secret services – and then “The Home” (as insiders call the CNI) stated that it had confined itself to questioning someone who claimed to have been in contact with Islamists, something routine in intelligence work.
The CNI report on “Es Satty the prisoner” they said did not exist
But it turns out that the CNI agents did not come to see him until his sentence had almost been served – instead of doing so as soon as they heard his allegations that jihadists had forced him to act as a mule – and then they denied having monitored his Islamist radicalisation in prison, something they would normally do with prisoners such as Es Satty. They even leaked to the media that, during his stay in prison, “there was never a report on him”, despite his having some influence among the Muslim community in the centre, because “it did not fall within the surveillance criteria.”
The truth is very different. Público has had access to the confidential note provided to the police by the National Intelligence Centre in the days following the attacks, which gives an overview of what was known about Es Satty. And one of its passages explains (as can be seen in the excerpt at the beginning of this article):
- Upon Es Satty’s arrival at Penitentiary Centre Castellón I, another prisoner named Abdellatif Sifwas prayer leader of the Muslim community there. Abdellatif Sif demanded orthodox observance of religious precepts from the rest of the Muslim prisoners, had leadership capacity and later, together with Abdelbaki Es Satty, led a pressure group that proselytised to other Muslim inmates. Both underwent a process of radicalisation in the prison and Sif openly stated their support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, claiming that only forces of occupation, including the Spanish, were responsible for the conflict.
- Es Satty was considered an Islamist by Penitentiary Institutions and showed his fundamentalism from the very beginning of his stay in Castellón prison. He proselytised to other inmates, complied meticulously with Islamic precepts and demanded, together with Sif, strict observance of Ramadan from other Muslim prisoners.
- He did not talk to officials. He was extremely reserved and acted as Sif’s number two in the pressure group established in the Muslim communityin the prison.
- The leaks to the media claimed that “he never showed signs of radicalisation”, but the CNI report contradicts this.
That is, it says the opposite of what was leaked to media such as El Confidencial. In fact, every time new information appeared in the press on Es Satty’s radicalisation in prison, there was immediately a new leak denying the obvious. For example, when it was reported that his stay in Castellón prison coincided with that of the jihadist Rachid Aglif, the following was published in ECD (elconfidencialdigital.com):
“… this news about Es Satty has caused great indignation within the Penitentiary Institutions, especially in Castellón jail, where they cannot believe what they are reading: “Nothing that has been said is true and there are reports that show the opposite”.
“Prison officers and officials consulted by this newspaper explain that the imam of Ripoll was admitted to module 3 of the jail and at no time was there ‘any chance’ he would befriend Aglif” [Rachid, one of the perpetrators of the 11-M terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004].
“His behaviour in prison was ‘normal’ and he never showed signs of radicalisation: he neither led prayers nor was he engaged in recruiting future jihadists.”
However, nothing could be further from the truth according to the confidential CNI reports to which Público has had access:
Fundamentalist, defiant and an admirer of the Taliban … until he realised that he would end up being deported to Morocco
- According to prison officials, Abdelbaki Es Satty showed a radical Islamist profile through his behaviour. They described him as a distant and conflictive prisoner, defiant in response to requests from the officers in the Centre, with whom he had little contact. He mixed almost exclusively with Muslim inmates.
- He spoke of his sympathy for Islamist extremism, stating in conversation that the Taliban were true Muslims who followed the word of Allah and the principles of the Koran, and that all Arab traditions must be respected in the world.
- In March 2012, after returning from a transfer to Ceuta to attend trial, Es Satty lowered his profilesignificantly, trying not to stand out on any account; he completely changed his attitude. According to assessments made at the time, this change could have been caused by his fear of deportation to Morocco.
And this last paragraph is crucial.
To begin with, according to the CNI’s own confidential report, Es Satty shows all the classic signs of Islamist radicalisation: extremist behaviour, religious orthodoxy, problems with prison officials, explicit support for the Taliban, etc. It is interesting that neither the testimonies of prison officials which appeared in the press nor the CNI acknowledge what Es Satty was really like. Perhaps no one wants to be connected with the attempt to recruit an authentic jihadist to work as a state informant.
The Civil Guard visited him for the first time immediately after his trial in Ceuta, which made him change his attitude
However, what is most interesting for any researcher is the change of attitude that Es Satty’s handlers noticed in him in March 2012 after he was transferred to Ceuta to attend his hearing and realised that he would be deported to Morocco after serving his sentence. He doubtless understood that only a change of behaviour would prevent his deportation. And the first visit he received from Civil Guard officers followed almost immediately: on April 5, 2012.
Just a coincidence? This is highly unlikely. Either in the transfer to Ceuta or on his return from the hearing, Es Satty, seeing that he could be expelled from the country, was tempted by the possibility of working for the State. The Civil Guard (which has good relations with the CNI) immediately began to negotiate collaboration agreements.
Público‘s sources in the Spanish intelligence service, whose anonymity should be protected, state that during visits Es Satty received from CNI agents in 2014 – very shortly before his April release date of the same year – an agreement was signed obliging him to act as a secret service informant when he got out of jail. In return, they guaranteed that he would not be deported after serving his sentence, a promise which was kept.
Although the Government Sub-delegation in Castellón decided to deport Es Satty at the end of his sentence, the jihadist’s lawyers appealed and the magistrate of the city’s Administrative Court No. 2 ruled in 2005 that the crime for which he was convicted did not constitute “a threat to either public order or citizen security” because it had been committed five years earlier. However, the judge was never informed that he had previously been convicted in Ceuta for trying to smuggle a foreign citizen across the border with a fake passport.
A 6.5-year-old social security certificate
But the most curious thing was that his lawyers presented the judge with a work certificate that accredited that he had been registered with the Social Security system for more than six and a half years and had a current contract, which for the magistrate constituted a sufficiently strong “work reason” for him to remain in Spain as a resident. An unusual privilege for a reoffender.
Where did Es Satty get the resources and contacts to employ his legal defence and show the judge that CV? And why did the judge agree to consider him a “long-term resident in Spain”, when most of his time in the country had been spent in a prison cell for drug trafficking?
There is no doubt that he received unofficial help to prevent his expulsion in exchange for becoming a secret service informant, as is confirmed by the intelligence sources whose revelations to this publication have always proved to be accurate throughout this lengthy investigation. Moreover, these sources insist that the CNI arranged the recommendations and endorsements that opened the doors for Es Satty to be accepted as imam of the Ripoll mosque with the help of another Muslim informant in Girona, who left for France soon after the attack. The object was to enable Es Satty to infiltrate European jihadist networks from his new post.
Es Satty had already collaborated with the security forces during Operation Jackal
The Ripoll imam had already collaborated with the security forces years earlier during Operation Jackal, which unfolded during 2005 and ended in a procedural disaster due to wiretaps conducted without due cause. This case investigated the links between three different events: the bombings in Casablanca in 2003, assistance provided to terrorists fleeing the 2004 Madrid train bombings (11-M), and the attack on an Italian Carabinieri base in Nasiriyah, Iraq. Es Satty was already an Islamist at the time attending meetings on recruitment and radicalisation held by the jihadist Mohamed Mrabet Fhasi in his apartment and his butcher’s shop in Vilanova i la Geltrú in Barcelona province.
In September 2005, the National Police requested permission to tap Es Satty’s telephone from the then National Court judge, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, suspecting him of being a “logistics support intermediary” for terrorism. Several witnesses in the case pointed to him as a close collaborator of Mrabet, in whose home money transfers in the name of Es Satty and a photocopy of his documentation would later be found.
Phone tap cancelled after just one month
Strangely, within a month of initiating the phone tap, the investigating police unit requested the cessation of the surveillance on this telephone, arguing that it was inactive – that he was almost certainly using “another number, as yet unknown”. However, the new phone was never found and the old number was not tapped again, although the reason given in the phone tap request was that Es Satty belonged to Mrabet’s inner circleand participated in recruitment meetings, as well as his telephone contact with members of the terrorist organization, Ansar al Islam. All this should have put Es Satty at the centre of the investigation.
A witness in the trial even remarked that Es Satty lived with Bilal Belgacem, the mujahideen who committed the 2003 suicide bombing against Italian troops stationed in Nasiriyah which killed 19 soldiers and 9 Iraqi civilians.
The Police and the intelligence services have various methods and systems to identify the number of someone whose phone they want to tap. But in this case, where they had identified one of the main members of a terrorist cell linked to the attacks in Casablanca, Madrid and Nasiriya, they decided not to tap any of his other communication channels, which is frankly suspicious, especially when you consider that the explanation given for this, years later, was that the police had accidentally tapped a mobile phone that was not his.
This strange fact is clearly related to the statement made by “protected witness B-05”, in the same trial, describing how the the recruitment meetings worked and identifying all of its members. All of them, that is, but one: Abdelbaki Es Satty. Many other witnesses in the case, who are not considered “protected”, identified Es Satty as a participant in those same meetings.
In a brief report to Baltasar Garzón, the Civil Guard ruled out the possibility that Es Satty had Islamist links
However, in 2008 the Civil Guard sent a report to Judge Baltasar Garzón, who had asked to be given the case, and in only five short paragraphs it was argued that, although “there is a direct relationship with some of the members of the dismantled terrorist cell, no link with the mujahideen recruitment network was observed”. Surprisingly, this contradicted the testimonies of three key defendants (Boudame, Bensaliman and Karakoc) who had identified him as a member of the cell and even a member of the leadership of the jihadist organization.
So the judge excluded him from the indictment against the 22 accused for allegedly recruiting jihadists who wanted to sacrifice themselves in Iraq or Syria, and even help some of the terrorists responsible for 11-M to escape. But stranger still was that Es Satty was not even called as a witness … Or was he?
Was Abdelbaki Es Satty protected witness B-05? He was never officially identified – he even gave his testimony in the trial hidden from view behind a screen – but if he is not, then it is inexplicable that, after the police operation resulted in the arrest of more than 20 suspects, Es Satty should not be one of them.
If he was not the mysterious “protected witness B-05”, it would have been illegal for him not to be called to testify in the trial
And not only that; it appears that no statement was taken from him at all, not even as an innocent witness to the facts. This goes against the most elementary police and judicial procedure, and may even break the law … unless, in reality, he had already given his statement, but in secret, as a “protected witness”.
In short, it is perfectly normal for a person who has participated in a major court case as a protected witness and who has had clear contact both with groups linked to jihadism and major drug trafficking gangs to be recruited as an informant by Spanish intelligence services to avoid deportation and even, according to some sources, for him to be paid from a secret slush fund for informants, something Público has not been able to establish in this case.
So, why does the CNI insist on hiding its relationship with Es Satty? Is it out of fear that a possible connection with the Barcelona attacks will be revealed, or the possibility that the attacks could have been financed – involuntarily – from a secret fund for informants, or that Es Satty was double-dealing and deceived the secret services, or even that the CNI had knowledge of the potential attack but was unable to prevent it?
… TO BE CONTINUED
MILFORD EDGE @milfordedge
Original source: Público @publico_es
Author: CARLOS ENRIQUE BAYO @tableroglobal
Publication date: 15 July 2019