Former PM Zapatero becomes latest Spanish politician to be sent threatening letter containing bullets

In the last week a total of seven packages have been mailed to a series of high-profile figures, including two of the candidates for Madrid regional premier. The police have so far concluded that a number of different suspects are involved

Former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in a file photo.
Former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in a file photo.Mònica Torres
Óscar López-Fonseca

Security teams at Spain’s postal service Correos discovered on Wednesday another letter containing ammunition and a threat aimed at a politician, the seventh such incident to take place in a week. On this occasion, the recipient was the former Socialist Party (PSOE) prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was targeted with a package containing two bullets and a handwritten letter with insults, according to a story first broken by Spanish TV channel La Sexta and later confirmed to EL PAÍS by Interior Ministry sources.

This latest incident comes after a number of other missives were sent to various high-profile figures during the highly polarized campaign ahead of the May 4 regional elections in Madrid. Last week it emerged that the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and the general director of the Civil Guard, María Gámez, had all received threatening letters with bullets inside. Another letter, this time containing a bloody knife, was intercepted before it reached Industry and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto. The Popular Party (PP) candidate for Madrid premier, incumbent Isabel Díaz Ayuso, was also sent a package containing two projectiles from Catalonia, while another package addressed to the Civil Guard – but containing a threat aimed at Pablo Iglesias – was also intercepted.

Zapatero, you bland, baneful vermin, ignoramus who did and continues doing so much damage to Spain. May your brains be blown out through your eyebrows
Message contained in letter intercepted by postal service security personnel

The person who sent the package to the industry and tourism minister included his own name and address on the envelope, and has been identified by the police. He is reported to suffer a mental illness and as such cannot be prosecuted for his actions. Sources close to the investigation into this series of threats have said that the letters sent to Zapatero, Díaz Ayuso and the Civil Guard did not come from the same person who sent the first three.

The package sent to Zapatero was detected in a sorting office in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas. It contained two .38 caliber bullets along with a handwritten note in red ink. “Zapa[tero], you bland, baneful vermin, ignoramus who did and continues doing so much damage to Spain. May your brains be blown out through your eyebrows,” the latter a reference to one of the politician’s distinctive facial characteristics.

The envelope did not include Zapatero’s name nor did it feature information about the sender – investigators concluded it was aimed at him thanks to the note inside. It also contained a DVD case wrapped in adhesive tape. Sources close to the investigation reported that the package’s interception by Correos will facilitate the identification of the mailbox in Madrid where it was deposited, which should speed up the process of identifying the sender.

Investigations so far point to the first three letters having been sent by the same person, someone who took a lot of care to avoid identification. According to police sources, no fingerprints or DNA traces have been found that could help with the probe. The origin of the bullets, which have not been used by the Spanish security forces for some years now, has also failed to provide any clues. The notes and the writing on the envelopes was done using a stencil, also impeding any graphological study to provide information.

Debate electoral Cadena Ser
Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (l) walked out of the set of a Cadena SER radio debate after Vox's Rocío Monasterio (r) questioned whether he really received death threat letters. Cadena SER (EFE)

The sender of the letter to the Civil Guard also used a stencil, but a different kind. The ammunition sent was also different. This has led investigators to conclude that this is a case of a “copycat.”

The package sent to Reyes Maroto was completely different. Police took just a few hours to identify the sender, a resident of El Escorial (Madrid) who suffers from schizophrenia, according to sources close to the investigation. During the suspect’s police interview, he claimed to be a secret agent. This was not the first time that he had sent such letters, although until now the recipients were usually diplomats from other countries based in Spain. Six weeks before sending the letter to the industry minister, he sent a letter to Jon Iñarritu, a deputy for the Basque far-left party EH Bildu. This package contained a DVD of an Agatha Christie movie.

These threatening letters set in motion a series of events last week that ended up with the planned pre-election debates still to be held being canceled. Sparks flew last Friday at a broadcast from the Cadena SER radio network, when Pablo Iglesias – who recently stepped down as deputy prime minister in the national government to run for the Madrid elections – walked out of the studio given far-right Vox candidate Rocío Monasterio’s refusal to walk back her doubts about the veracity of the threatening letters.

The debate continued but proved to be chaotic, with a series of insults and provocations aimed by Monasterio at the remaining candidates in the room (Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the PP had opted not to participate beforehand) and even the moderator and presenter of the broadcast itself. The event was eventually cut short after the PSOE candidate Ángel Gabilondo and the Más Madrid candidate Mónica García opted to walk out too. Subsequently, the remaining debates were canceled due to several parties’ refusal to appear with Vox.

English version by Simon Hunter.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS