The lone arrangers: Spain deflects austerity attention on ‘jihadis’

Pepe Escobar
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.
The lone arrangers: Spain deflects austerity attention on ‘jihadis’
With the arrest of a young Algerian, allegedly a cyber-jihadi, Spain is the first Western country to follow the new paradigm of the War on Terror after Boston: the hunt is on for the Lone Wolf.

The headline on the cover of the extremely right-wing Spanish daily La Razon was straight from the Murdoch press; The ‘lone wolves’ detained in Spain contacted the bloodiest AQIM group – as in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And the caption for the photo splashed on the cover, pulled from a Facebook page, dealt the killer blow. The jihadi flag in front of the Pilar in Zaragoza: Nou Mediouni, one of the arrested (image), praised the “heroes” of Islam in his Facebook page.

I had just landed in Barcelona – on my way to Zaragoza – coming from London and countless hours plunged into the mysteries surrounding the Boston bombing. At the airport, this is my very first image of Spain; enough to imprint that the former Bush administration-coined Global War on Terror (GWOT) has just been rebranded The Age of the Lone Wolf.

So what was really going on in Zaragoza? Was global jihad about to take over that Catholic fortress, the Pilar, along with its adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary since the dawn of Christianity in Spain?

Anatomy of a cyber-jihadi

It turned out that the local ‘jihadi’ is Nou Mediouni, 23, an Algerian student of information technology. He is accused of being a member of an AQIM cell in Spain. Evidence; mostly messages found in a forum about AQIM where he wrote about the Boston bombing that “what you feel now is what children in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq feel.”

Like clockwork, only one hour after Mediouni was arrested – alongside one Hassan El Jaaouani, 52, Moroccan, arrested in Murcia, whose profile reads like a smuggler of cheap goods - Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez classified both as “lone wolves” and compared them with the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, accused of being the perpetrators of the Boston bombing.

The Spanish judiciary, arguably hinting that Fernandez was reading too much US think tank nonsense, counter-attacked, insisting there was no conclusive proof to accuse either of being AQIM jihadis.

It soon became clear that neither Mediouni nor Jaaouni had anything lone wolf about them – since certified lone wolves live in isolation (no family) and make sure they do not follow Islam’s precepts. There are very few “pure” lone wolves able to pick a target, buy the materials, fabricate a bomb and successfully detonate it, operating by themselves without taking orders from any group.

Spanish police took no time to leak to mainstream media that Mediouni had extensive contacts with one El Youbi, a big shot at the katiba – combat unit – of infamous one-eyed jihadi Mokhtar Belmokhtar (who may or may not have been killed in Mali). Mediouni ‘may’ have been – digitally - recruited by a Moroccan Islamist currently in jail. And he ‘may’ have received instructions to travel to an AQIM jihadist training camp in northern Mali.

The Interior Ministry itself characterized Mediouni as an “aspiring martyr” – a dangerous cyber-jihadi killing machine that was mostly an active member of the ‘Muslims in Spain’ Facebook page, from which that incriminating photo was taken. Yet the page, founded in September 2012, was mostly concerned about…Syria.

The irony of NATO member Spain accusing a sympathizer of NATO-supported Syrian ‘rebels’ is too precious for words.

Anyway, Omar Tambedou, the Senegalese imam of the mosque attended by Mediouni, in the popular Zaragoza neighborhood of Las Fuentes, dismissed it all: “He is a Muslim brother and I know him as a student, a normal kid. He came to pray at the mosque. He is a good person.”

As for Mediouni’s father – who’s been in Spain for 14 years – he insisted, “Everything is a lie. This is not a democratic country. I thought we were well here, but it turns out we’re worse than in my own country.” He denies his son went to the Maghreb; “He went to Turkey on a package trip, didn’t even go to Syria.” But it was up to one of Mediouni’s uncles to provide the killer argument; “You’re not a terrorist if you are against the invasion of Iraq. Millions of Spaniards protested in the streets.”

In the end, the judiciary took no chances, sending Mediouni to prison, accused of being integrated to a terrorist organization; as for petty thief Jaaouni, he’s free but cannot leave Spain and has to report to police every 2 weeks.

Mass profiling ahead

All this had been going on for no less than over a year – with the French and the Moroccans collaborating with the Spaniards.

So why now? The pretext for Mediouni’s arrest was of course Boston; to forcefully imprint on public opinion, across Western Europe, the ‘lone wolf’ narrative. EU counter-terrorism agencies are convinced Spain – especially in the southeast, in Alicante and Murcia - is the preferred transit point for jihadis coming from northern Africa to set up dormant cells across Europe.

Now everyone still able to buy tapas and sangria knows that AQIM has a press office called Al Andalus – a reference to the Spanish territories once ruled by Islam; and that AQIM (and not the troika) is the utmost threat to the Spanish nation, as they’re obsessed on founding a Global Caliphate.

Not by accident, in the same week of the Boston bombing – something already planned way in advance – anti-terrorist units in all EU member countries played out the possibility of simultaneous terror attacks in nine countries, Spain included. For instance, in Spain there was a simulated attack against a bus, in Austria against a school, in Ireland against an electricity plant, in Sweden against a ferry and in Belgium against a high-speed train. The exercise – the most ‘complex’ in the EU so far - was code-named Common Challenge.

To divert attention from the absolute devastation of the Spanish dream, the new Lone Wolf paranoia works wonders. This past week the official unemployment rate reached a staggering 27.1 per cent, affecting 6,202,700 people (and their families). In affluent Catalonia, unemployment is at 24.53 per cent, but in some regions such as Andalusia it’s a horrid 36.87 per cent. For those under 25, unemployment reached an astonishing 57.2 per cent (and Italy is catching up fast, already at 38.4 per cent).

One quarter of Spain’s population is now firmly installed at the gates of poverty. Virtually half of the population – between the unemployed and pensioners - is not productive. And the current, paralyzed right- wing government is already flirting with a drastic reform of the pension system – imposed by Brussels. Basically, people over 55 will have to work many more years in order to retire with some dignity.

Doom and gloom is the norm. France’s unemployment is at 10.6 per cent, Portugal’s at 17 per cent and Greece’s at 27.2 per cent. The eurozone’s is at 12 per cent. Industrial production in Italy has fallen by 25 per cent since 2008. The number of Spanish firms filing for bankruptcy is 45 per cent higher than in 2012.

Jihad against Brussels and the troika? No chance. The name of the game – and target – now is second-generation lone wolves. Pay attention to the blitzkrieg by European elites pressing the idea that social integration of children of Muslim immigrants still remains compatible with jihadi radicalization. The next step is to profile them all. They should start thinking about moving to Siberia – where real lone wolves of the non-jihadi kind freely roam.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.