Catalan separatists tried to build “secure channel” to aid Puigdemont, probe finds

Suspects held for plotting violent acts allegedly contacted ex-leader’s sister to set up safe communications between Waterloo and the regional government headquarters in Barcelona

Catalan premier Quim Torra with ex-leader Carles Puigdemont in Waterloo last July.
Catalan premier Quim Torra with ex-leader Carles Puigdemont in Waterloo last July.John Thys (AFP)

Five of the seven Catalan separatists being held without bail for alleged terrorist activities also worked, according to investigators, to establish “a secure communications system” between Catalan premier Quim Torra and Carles Puigdemont, the former regional leader who fled to Belgium after heading an illegal breakaway attempt in 2017.

The alleged members of the Tactical Response Teams (ERT), considered a violent offshoot of the pro-independence network Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR), allegedly held a secret meeting on September 15, 2018 with Anna Puigdemont, the sister of the ex-Catalan premier, according to the radio network Cadena SER, and to sources familiar with the case contacted by this newspaper.

My ass is on the line, because if I get caught they’re going to throw [charges of] terrorism and organized criminal organization at me

Ferran Jolis, suspected ERT member

The same sources said that the system, meant to channel secret, sensitive information between the regional government of Catalonia in Barcelona and Puigdemont’s headquarters in the Belgian municipality of Waterloo, never got past the “infrastructure rehearsal stage.”

Sources close to Puigdemont deny that his sister participated in any such activities, and have used the term “insane” to describe the arguments used by investigating judge Manuel García-Castellón of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, which sees cases of terrorism, drug trafficking and other serious crimes.

Sources close to Carles Puigdemont said that on the day of the alleged meeting between his sister and members of the ERT, she was at the hospital caring for their father, who had just undergone surgery.

A suspect being arrested on Monday.
A suspect being arrested on Monday.Cristóbal Castro

Anna Puigdemont on Monday released a statement denying the claims, saying it was “materially impossible” for her to have taken part in the meeting for “family reasons.” She also added that she had “never acted as a link between my brother and premier Torra, nor with anyone else.”

Critical infrastructure

Dubbed Operation Judas, the Monday raid against separatists who were allegedly planning acts of violence was a year-and-a-half in the making. The Civil Guard said they confiscated material that could be used to make homemade bombs, including ammonium nitrate, sulfuric acid, paraffin, aluminum powder, industrial paint stripper, gasoline and thermite. Two of the suspects have confessed that they were making and testing explosives, and detainees were found to be in possession of information about several Mossos d’Esquadra police stations as well as the Civil Guard barracks in Canovelles (Barcelona).

Sources close to Carles Puigdemont say the claim about his sister’s involvement is “insane”

According to police sources, the ERT was planning to plant explosives in parts of the AP-7 highway and to damage mobile communications towers as part of a bid to disrupt critical public infrastructure. These actions were allegedly planned for sometime between October 1, which marks the second anniversary of the unauthorized independence referendum, and the day when the Supreme Court hands down its decision on the fate of 12 political and social leaders who were tried earlier this year for leading the 2017 breakaway attempt. This widely anticipated ruling, which will determine if the defendants are guilty of rebellion against the Spanish state, is expected in the first half of October.

One of the suspects, Ferrán Jolis, has been named as “a key element” in a plan to occupy the Catalan parliament for five days, beginning on the day of the Supreme Court ruling. According to the judge’s decision ordering prison without bail, Jolis was in charge of creating a “secure and undetectable” channel that would enable communications between the chamber and the outside world by hacking into the Wi-Fi connections of establishments and restaurants near the Catalan parliament. According to the detention order, Jolis made the following statement in a telephone conversation: “My ass is on the line, because if I get caught they’re going to throw [charges of] terrorism and organized criminal organization at me.”

Another detainee has testified that a third, unidentified party told him that Quim Torra was aware of the plan and supported it. Another suspect has claimed that he had “a personal meeting” with the current Catalan premier, but did not offer any details about the same. The Civil Guard has not offered any assessment on the veracity of this claim.

English version by Susana Urra.

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