BARCELONA — A CIA terror alert warning Catalan police about an impending Islamic State attack on a tourist site last summer has turned up in records that Catalan officers were on the verge of destroying, in an apparent effort to keep them from Spanish investigators.
Catalan regional authorities repeatedly denied having received the U.S. intelligence report four months prior to a string of coordinated terror incidents that killed 17 people, including a rampage along the La Rambla boulevard where a driver killed afternoon strollers with a van.
With the province convulsed by a fight over a separatist movement that has deeply divided the populace, the handling of the terror incidence has become a political issue as well.
The leader of Spain’s center-right party, Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, has called for a congressional hearings over how the provincial government — controlled at the time by a pro-independence majority — treated the CIA’s warning.
“There are doubts involving communications and warnings which U.S. intelligence delivered to the central and regional governments over the imminent threat of an attack in Catalonia,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Rivera said that the public needed to know if the “independence process in Catalonia could have negatively affected the coordination between the security services in countering terrorism.”
Catalonia’s regional government declared independence from Spain last November, triggering the imposition of direct rule by Madrid which moved to arrest regional president Carles Puigdemont and all of his cabinet, including security chief Joaquim Forn.
The existence of CIA memorandum came to light as part of a probe into Catalan police collusion with separatist leaders. On November 26, 2017, a Spanish national police team caught a group of Catalan policemen trying to incinerate 36 crates of documents which included the CIA memo.
Mr. Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium to avoid arrest, and Mr. Forn have said that they never saw the U.S. alert.
According to the Spanish National Police, the recovered documents included a four-page dossier containing 45 items of information on Islamic terrorism and a “note in English about possible attacks against tourists in Barcelona sent by the USA.”
The secret alert, dated May 25, 2017, was issued to the Catalan police under their official name Mossos D’Esquadra and was titled “ISIS Allegedly Plans to Attack Tourist Site in Barcelona for summer 2017,” specifically citing La Rambla as a possible target.
Catalonia’s police have confirmed the authenticity of the documents, saying that a copy of the alert remains filed with the regional interior ministry and that the decision to burn the papers was a routine disposal of dated records.
The attempted incineration took place the day after Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero was indicted by a Spanish court on charges of negligence. The case against Mr. Trapero mainly involved his failure to follow central government orders to block a regional referendum on independence held last October 1.
Mr. Trapero also denied receiving an alert from the CIA before the attack on La Rambla. He later said that warnings were “unspecific” and “second-hand.”
Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido has said that he received the same alert and that it was passed on to the Mossos d’ Esquadra. “It’s over the top that it now turns up in documents they were trying to burn,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Puigdemont pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya said the memo story was a “set-up” designed to tar the separatist cause.
But a Spanish security analyst told The Washington Times that Catalan officials might have been too busy with their independence campaign to pay attention to terrorism.
Catalonia has one the highest concentrations of Muslim residents in Spain, mainly recent arrivals from Morocco and other North African countries.
Ciudadanos lawmakers say that they also want to investigate how the Muslim Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, who organized the terror cell, had been allowed to radicalize immigrant youngsters for years when he already had a Spanish police record. Warnings about the imam had also been received from Belgium where he had contacts with radical groups.