Spain opts to maintain terrorism threat level after Paris attacks

Government decides against raising alert to maximum level five

Elsa García de Blas
A black ribbon is seen on a Spanish flag as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks at La Moncloa.
A black ribbon is seen on a Spanish flag as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks at La Moncloa.SUSANA VERA (REUTERS)

As Paris awoke in a state of shock over terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people and injured over 350 on Friday night, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke out on Saturday to express solidarity with France and to allay fears of potential attacks on Spanish soil.

“We want to tell our French friends that we are by their side, that they can count on us,” said Rajoy in a morning address at La Moncloa prime ministerial palace. “We stand together with all the democrats of the world in the defense of our values.”

All of Spain’s political parties suspended campaign events on Saturday as a show of mourning

“There is no cause that can justify yesterday’s atrocity. We are not facing a war of religions, but a battle between civilization and barbarity,” he added. “Today, we are all France.”

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said later Saturday that the government had decided to maintain the terrorism threat level at its current standing following a meeting of the Terrorist Threat Evaluation Committee.

The committee, which comprises the country’s top-ranking police chiefs, for the moment ruled out raising the alert from level 4 to 5, the highest possible, which means there is an “imminent risk” of an attack.

“We wanted to make an appeal for calm,” the minister said.

What is a level 4 alert?

A level 4 alert entails a strong presence of security personnel at strategic locations such as airports, train stations, power stations and telecommunications centers. All counter-terrorism units in police agencies have been activated. For now, however, the military has not been mobilized.

Spain has been on a level 4 alert ever since June, when Islamist terrorism hit Tunisia, France and Kuwait. Before that, in January, the level had been raised to 3 following the attack in Paris that left 12 people dead at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The country had not been on a level 4 since the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004.

On Saturday, Rajoy and Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría presided a special meeting of the National Security Council, the country’s top security and defense body, to discuss the matter.

Rajoy also called for an urgent meeting of the adherents of an anti-jihadism pact, which was signed in February between his Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialists to facilitate cooperation on counter-terrorism issues.

One Spaniard found alive

Four Spaniards were initially thought to have been killed in the attacks. However, that number has since been reduced after one of the victims named by French authorities, Alberto Pardo Touceda, 34, was discovered alive in Strasbourg. Touceda himself got in touch with the Spanish consulate in Paris to explain that his passport had been stolen in Bordeaux three years ago and perhaps one of those killed in the attack at the Bataclan concert hall, which was the scene of the worst carnage on Friday night, had been using his identity.

There are also doubts surrounding another of the Spaniards reported dead by French officials. Relatives of Jorge Alonso de Celada, who was born in 1956, have told Spanish authorities in France that he sent them a message on Sunday morning saying that he was fine. The hotel where he was staying also said he had checked out at 11am on Sunday. Neither Spanish nor French authorities had been able to locate him on Sunday evening.

The other Spanish victims named by French authorities are 29-year-old Juan Alberto González Garrido, who was originally from Granada and died in the Bataclan, and 27-year-old Michelli Gil Jáimez, a Spanish-Mexican who was killed in the attack on La Belle Equipe restaurant, according to Mexican officials.

González Garrido had been attending the concert by American rock band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan with his wife. The pair became separated during the attack: she is reported to have told family members that she saw him fall to the ground when the police entered the premises, but didn’t know if he had been hit by a bullet. She later saw him being put into an ambulance, but lost trace of him after that. Both engineers, the couple had been living in the French capital for the last two years.

One other Spaniard is reported to be among the injured, according to the French embassy. Thirty-nine-year-old Iván García sustained minor injuries after attending the Bataclan concert. He had traveled to Paris from Madrid to visit three Spanish friends living there.

The government has issued instructions to monitor the situation of all Spaniards currently in the French capital.

Rajoy said he has already spoken with his French counterpart, Manuel Valls, and that he was planning to do the same with President François Hollande.

The prime minister has also been in touch with all the leaders of opposition parties, including Socialist secretary general Pedro Sánchez, Ciudadanos head Albert Rivera and Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias.

All of Spain’s political parties suspended campaign events on Saturday as a show of mourning over the French attacks.

A hotbed of jihadist activity

Spain is considered a hotbed of jihadist recruitment in Europe. In early November, three individuals were arrested in Madrid on suspicion that they were planning imminent attacks in the name of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Spain has carried out more operations against ISIS than any other European country so far; 60 people have now been detained in the country in relation to Islamist terrorism this year.

English version by Susana Urra.

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