In new escalation of drug violence, police get ambushed in southern Spain

Patrol cars were pelted with Molotov cocktails in La Línea de la Concepción, where authorities have long been waging an underfunded battle against traffickers

Molotov cocktails seized by the police after an ambush.
Molotov cocktails seized by the police after an ambush.

After years of chasing down the thousands of young people who work for the powerful drug traffickers in the southern Spanish area known as Campo de Gibraltar, the police in the town of La Línea de la Concepción (Cádiz) thought they had seen it all. “We know that they try to mislead us: when they are going to drop off a shipment they call in with a false lead so we will go to another location,” says one officer.

“We also know that if we block their path when they are transporting merchandise they will not hesitate to ram our vehicles with their powerful stolen cars. And if they can protect the drug dealers who employ them, they will. They will even break them out of hospital while they are under police custody,” the agent adds. “But we weren’t expecting them to actually ambush us.”

The police car was pelted with  bricks, flares and Molotov cocktails

But that’s exactly what happened early Wednesday morning. The police received a tip-off about a colla – the local term for the groups that deliver shipments – and a possible tobacco drop-off at the beach. The police dispatched an undercover vehicle to patrol the area, but once they arrived they saw a barricade burning in Bernabé, part of the San Bernardo neighborhood adjacent to the maze of streets known as La Atunara, where drug lords have built “fortresses” to conceal their illegal goods.

“At least 20 people” began to throw bricks at the police car, as well as flares and Molotov cocktails, according to sources at the La Línea police station. Even though they called for reinforcements immediately, two officers were injured and multiple cars were damaged. The street lights went out and 15 to 20 teens disappeared into the darkness. Only one suspect, a 15-year-old minor who resisted arrest, was held.

The police suspect the blackout was deliberately caused by the assailants: “The attackers cut the cables, I’m sure of it, so that they could escape with impunity.” One of the agents said that “the bottles were filled with a thick solution that was made to stick to the skin. We were lucky that it did not get on any of the cars or officers.”

Civil guards push a speedboat used by drug gangs in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Civil guards push a speedboat used by drug gangs in the Strait of Gibraltar.Marcos Moreno

This is the latest escalation of violence in the fight against drug trafficking in Campo de Gibraltar. The attack may have been retaliation for the recent arrest of Antonio Tejón Castaño, a local drug kingpin and the eldest of the Castaña brothers.

Drug trafficking has become a reliable source of income to many families and teenagers in La Línea, which has some of the highest unemployment levels in Spain. Many locals have turned to drug trafficking as a means of survival, with an estimated 3,000 people believed to be working for narcotics gangs.

Drug dealers have been operating in southern Spain for a long time, largely unchallenged, and have gained the respect and even the admiration of those whom they have “helped.”

This is part of the escalation of violence that is not stopped because there is not enough of a response from the system

Police officer in La Línea

The recent death of a child who was hit by a speedboat used to smuggle drugs has drawn the spotlight on the situation, and even resulted in additional reinforcements for the police departments in the area. On the other hand, the apprehension of the Castaña gang’s leader has riled up those involved in the drug trade.

One of the police officers in La Línea has been denouncing the lack of material and human resourses in his department for years. This source said that “these attacks are a completely new thing. They are premeditated, well thought out and orchestrated. They are using guerrilla tactics, like the ones used by the kale borroka (the street violence practiced for years by ETA sympathizers in the Basque Country). They aim to kill us as well as to intimidate us.”

The police see two main motives behind the ambush. “This is part of the escalation of violence that is not stopped because there is not enough of a response from the system. And because of that they think, why not do it? Additionally, seizures have increased lately, and they are angry about it.”

On Tuesday the majority police union SUP made a renewed request for additional personnel and equipment, which never seems to arrive. “Politician after politician has promised to do much, but we haven’t seen anything being done. We need answers and we need them now.”

English version by Andres Cayuela


More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS