Spain to punish those who join jihadists

Foreign Minister outlines “hypothetical” military measures it could undertake in US-led coalition

Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García-Margallo on Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García-Margallo on Tuesday.Sergio Barrenechea (EFE)

The Spanish government is examining a modification to the reform of the penal code now passing through Congress that would criminalize those who go to fight in armed conflicts abroad.

The aim is for Spanish judges to be able to try those who join jihadist groups, and thus stop the flow of foreign combatants into the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) and, above all, quell the threat they represent when they return to their countries of origin.

The Interior Ministry has identified more than 50 Spanish citizens who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to enroll in IS.

Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García-Margallo made the announcement on Tuesday, a day after attending a summit of over 30 nations in Paris that sought to tackle this “serious and complex” phenomenon.

Margallo said jihadism was “a direct threat for the security of all nations [and] especially significant for Spain,” given that it both suffered the horror of Islamist terrorism first hand with the 2004 Madrid train bombings and forms “the southern border of Europe.”

Spain has never watched from the sidelines. We will be where our presence is required” Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García-Margallo

Responding to criticism over his absence at the first meeting of the international coalition set up to tackle the terrorist group, which took place on the sidelines of the recent Nato summit in Wales, Margallo said that Spain had “never watched from the sidelines. We have been and we will be where our presence is required and can be most useful.”

Margallo underlined that though “necessary, the military solution cannot be the only response.” Nevertheless, he also outlined a list of “hypothetical” military measures that Spain could take to help the Unites States-led coalition. He warned that he had not yet taken any decision, because “it has not yet been finalized which actions will be undertaken by the coalition and what the role of each country will be.”

Use of the bases at Morón de la Frontera in Seville and Rota in Cádiz. Their employment in the anti-jihadist operation is not covered by Nato nor by Spain’s bilateral agreement with the US, which has troops at the installations. It would thus require express authorization by the Spanish government.

Strategic transport. The loan of a Hercules or C-295 transport plane and crew to move equipment or personnel. Denmark and Australia have already done this.

Supply of non-lethal military equipment. Spain has already done this in Ukraine, where it has provided 300 helmets and 500 flak jackets.

Spain has yet to provide weapons, though it is considering donating 25,000 rifles

Supply of lethal military equipment. The US, France, the UK, Italy, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary and Germany have sent weapons to the Peshmerga Kurds in Iraq. Spain has yet to do so, though it is considering donating 25,000 Cetme rifles it has in stock. But Margallo stressed that this would only be with the approval of Baghdad.

Air support. Spain could provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and mid-air refueling aircraft, as it did in the Nato campaign in Libya in 2011. But the minister ruled out any direct participation in bombing raids.

Consultancy and training. It could also help train soldiers in Iraq or those fighting with the moderate opposition in Syria, under the banner of Nato or the European Union, as Spanish forces already do in Mali and Somalia.

Spain will also participate in the task force looking to find ways of cutting off IS’s financing and is also considering increasing humanitarian aid, after approving an extraordinary payment of €500,000 to the Iraqi Kurds.

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