Ripoll, the Catalan home of terrorist cell in shock
‘I’d rather see him jailed than dead’ says mother of fugitive van driver as Muslim community in Pyrenean town copes with aftermath of attack
As the investigation into the terrorist attacks that hit Barcelona and Cambrils last week goes on, the focus has shifted to include a third Catalan town, Ripoll, where most of the members of the jihadist group behind the attacks grew up. It is also the place, say the local Muslim community, where the men became radicalized by a newly arrived imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty.
Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, not far from the French border, Ripoll is an unlikely nursery for a jihadist cell that killed 15 and injured more than a hundred in Spain’s worst terrorist attack since 2004. With only 11,000 inhabitants, the town’s mayor claims that almost everybody knows each other. Hence the sense of shock and bewilderment at the police raids and international media attention that has followed the attacks.
“The youngsters that did this were very assimilated within the town and showed no signs they were becoming radicalized,” said Núria Perpinyà, a social worker at the local council. “They were integrated and had Catalan friends; indeed, they were Catalan and spoke excellent Catalan.”
“The youngsters that did this were very assimilated within the town and showed no signs they were becoming radicalized”
Núria Perpinyà · Social worker in Ripoll
In all, the jihadist group that carried out the attacks was made up of 12 members: five were shot dead by police officers in Cambrils after killing one victim and injuring several others; three were arrested in Ripoll; another two died in an accidental explosion in Alcanar, where the terrorists were making bombs to attack Barcelona, and one who survived the explosion was later arrested; and the van driver, Younes Abouwaaqoub, who initially escaped, but was was shot dead by Catalan police on Monday afternoon in the Catalan town of Subirats.
‘The boys did not act alone’
“I’d rather see him jailed than dead,” said Abouwaaqoub’s mother, Hannou Ghanimi, who says she wants her son to give himself up. Ghanimi spoke on Saturday at a demonstration in Ripoll held by the local Muslim community. The attendees held signs that read: “No en el meu nom” (Not in my name).
The terrorists did not show any signs of radicalization, according to their family members and friends. “These boys did not act alone,” said Uafa Marsi, a town council mediator who had known some of the terrorists since they were children. “I’d bet my life they didn’t act alone. And nor is it something that has been going on for long; it’s quite recent. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were radicalized, because I don’t believe it, but they were manipulated.”
Abouyaaqoub’s cousin, Fatima, said that he started to change when a new imam arrived in the town.
Es Satty, who is the suspected leader of the jihadist cell, worked in Ripoll as an imam for a year and four months. He shared an apartment with another man, who says Es Satty left some days ago, telling him he was going to Morocco to visit his family. Es Satty could well be one of the terrorists who died in the explosion in Alcanar, but the forensic investigation has not yet reached a conclusion.
Imam spent four years in prison
Catalan police confirmed today that Es Satty spent four years in a Castellón prison, south of Catalonia, for drug trafficking. The Ripoll Muslim community have complained that nobody told them about Es Satty’s criminal record, and had they known, they wouldn’t have chosen him to head the mosque.
“We didn’t notice anything weird; he led a normal life,” said Ali Yassine, the president of the Muslim community in Ripoll. “We are not to blame for what happened. The state knew the imam was here, so they should have let us know.”
From now on, the Ripoll Muslim community will be very careful when choosing a new imam, and will ask for a background check, says Yassine. Yet, the community president also fears that it will now be difficult to find someone willing to lead the mosque.
For Ripoll, getting back to normality will be no easy task. Perpinyà, speaking on behalf of the town council, said they will work hard to strengthen the ties with the local Muslim community and to prevent any backlash against them. After the attacks, Perpinyà said, society needs to be “stitched back together.”