THE ports of Alicante and Valencia are on high alert for fighters from so-called Islamic State attempting to return to Europe from Syria and Iraq.
Jihadist terrorists are said to be making their way back to the west following a string of defeats on IS in the Middle East by the international coalition.
Security specialists say the Valencia region has the largest Muslim community after Andalusia, Catalonia and Madrid – and believe a radical element that could provide the logistical support for IS returning supporters.
Police have stepped up security at Valencia and Alicante after reports the two ports were on the route to Europe and are believed to have undercover officers on board ferries from Algeria.
Spain like Britain believes the return of radicalised jihadists is the greatest threat to society; both allies have suffered terror attacks this year – and both remain on the second highest level of security alert, indicating a “high risk” of a further incident.
And AICS, a private intelligence and security consultancy based in Spain, believes the two ports are on a “natural route” into Europe.
The specialist company reports towns along the coast of Valencia with sympathisers could provide “safe houses” and there were “radical elements” of “significant importance, which allows the provision of a reasonable logistical support for those who make the trip”.
AICS believes the route back from Algeria would grow in importance with a network of ‘mafia’ type gangs already in existence and ships relatively easy to board in the North African country and “disembark without major problems”.
It also said the Valencia was particularly “vulnerable” – Alicante has seen security officers reinforced – and allowed a route into Europe along the Mediterranean coast and across into France.
Spanish newspaper Las Provincias has highlighted how government intelligence services have already ranked the region of Valencia as the third highest in Spain on a special ‘jihadist radicalisation index’.
And earlier this year an Imam was arrested in Teulada-Moraira and is being held in custody for offences of radicalisation and for facilitating the return if jihadists from the Middle East – one of 11 people arrested in Valencia over the last two years.
Security forces have investigated 300 alerts in Valencia related to Islamist terrorism in the last 12 months, 10% of all calls to the ‘Stop Radicalisation’ scheme launched by Madrid’s Ministry of the Interior.
Of over 3,000 tip offs across Spain, 65% were seen as non-viable in the fight against terror although the remainder did highlight crimes and 63 were investigated as linked to jihadist terrorism.
It has been criticised by the Islamic community in Valencia for promoting the persecution of Muslims and Islamophobia.
However, Minister of the Interior Juan Ignacio Zoido said: “Stop Radicalisation is today a very valid tool in the fight against terrorism, a very important source of information for the security forces.”