“When are you going to Syria to fight in the jihad?”
“We already have the jihad right here in Ceuta. We don’t need to go there.”
This was the reply Yassin Ahmed Laarbi, aka Pistu, gave his wife when she inquired about his and his friends’ plans to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Laarbi and his followers had just sent 14 youths, most from the Spanish exclave of Ceuta, off to almost certain death in Syria. Eight of them died in suicide attacks that caused dozens of victims.
An investigation by the High Court shows that the first Islamist cell busted in Ceuta in 2012 for sending fighters to Syria was also planning attacks on Spanish soil.
High Court prosecutors Javier Zaragoza and Vicente González Mota want Laarbi and 10 associates to spend between 10 and 12 years behind bars for association with the Al Nusra Front and with Islamic State, which seeks the creation of a new caliphate.
Other detainees include Omar al Hadouchi, who received a royal pardon in Morocco after being convicted of instigating the 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca, which targeted the Casa de España restaurant, among other sites. Al Hadouchi has participated in many activities against what he terms the “infidel regime” of Bashar al-Assad.
Court papers to which EL PAÍS has had describe some of the young men who decided to leave their families behind in Ceuta to fight and die in the Holy War. These include Rachid, a 33-year-old taxi driver; Mustafa Mohammed Layachi, 30, and Mustafa Mohammed, the first suicide bombers who became “martyrs” and attracted other youths from troubled neighborhoods in Ceuta such as El Príncipe and El Sardinero.
The suicide bombers traveled from Ceuta to Algeciras, on the Spanish mainland, on April 7, 2012. From there they went to Málaga, where they bought airplane tickets to Turkey. They stayed at two hotels in the city of Antakya, in Hatay province. Other Moroccan jihadists from Casablanca stayed at the same hotel on the same dates, and met with their recruiter for further instructions.
Shortly after, the group crossed into northern Syria and stayed at one of the camps in Jabhat al Nusra. All three Ceuta youths were incorporated into the Tariq Ibn Ziad brigade, led by Abdelaziz El Mahdali, a veteran Moroccan jihadist who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On June 1, Rachid the taxi driver smiled into the video camera recording him, embraced two colleagues, and drove a truck filled with bombs right into a military baracks in Idlib, killing 130 people. His two friends died on June 26 in their own suicide attacks.
On June 14, the Ceuta cell prepared a new expedition to Syria, which failed when the new would-be bombers were unable to secure tickets to Turkey. But there were other successful trips after that. One of them included an underage recruit, Nordin Abderrayat Madan, who also died in Syria.
A total of 14 people were sent to Syria by Ismail Abdelaftif and Karim Abdeselam Mohamed, a 40-year-old recruiter who had been the target of all the intelligence services for some time, and was arrested during one of two raids conducted by police in June and September 2013.