Calls for investigation after alleged links between Spanish intelligence and terror attacks

Former police official claims he has evidence that Spanish agency wanted to destabilize Catalonia ahead of independence vote

People lay flowers on one of the pillars on the fourth anniversary of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks (by Eli Don)
People lay flowers on one of the pillars on the fourth anniversary of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks (by Eli Don) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

January 12, 2022 01:11 PM

Political figures and entities are calling for a thorough investigation into the alleged links between Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI) and the 2017 terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, as claimed by a former high-ranking police official in court on Tuesday.

José Manuel Villarejo believes Spanish intelligence was complicit in the attacks and has followed that up on Wednesday by saying he has evidence to back this claim up. 

In statements to the media on Wednesday, he said that the proof is in his files and notes, which he stated were "secret" and therefore asked that they be made accessible to the public. "The most obvious proof of all is that they don't want to give me my files," he said. 

He assured that Spanish intelligence was involved in the August 2017 attacks, but clarified that his comments were not meant to be construed as the CNI provoking the attack, but instead he said they wanted to "give the appearance of risk" so that Catalonia "felt the need for protection" of Spain.

On Tuesday he said that the events of August 17, 2017, "were a serious mistake" on the part of Spain's former National Intelligence Center (CNI) director, Féliz Sanz Roldán. A total of 16 people lost their lives that day when a van drove down the middle of the La Rambla boulevard at speed.

The CNI head "wanted to give Catalonia a fright" ahead of the October 1, 2017 referendum, but "miscalculated the consequences," Villarejo said on Tuesday.

Calls for investigation

Many figureheads across Catalan politics were quick to demand answers and explanations following Villarejo’s claims, especially those in favor of independence. 

For years, they have urged Spain to run an investigation on the links between its intelligence and Abdelbaki Es Satty. After Villarejo's comments on Tuesday, the current Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, demanded Madrid to look into it again and requested his government's legal team to review the former police officer's remarks. 

"If his words are true, we need an explanation now," Aragonès said. 

Gabriel Rufián, spokesperson in the Spanish Congress for the same party as Aragonès, ERC, called for Spanish president Pedro Sánchez, interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and the former CNI director, Féliz Sanz Roldán, to appear before the lower chamber. He also said that ERC would reactivate the “filed and vetoed” inquiry commissions into the terror attacks.

Speaker of the Catalan parliament Laura Borràs also requested for the chamber's legal team to take the case to the public prosecutor. It is "absolutely essential to know the truth," Borràs added. "Providing transparency to such a serious attack is crucial. Hiding information under the premise of official secrecy does not bring credibility; on the contrary, it discredits it."

Carles Puigdemont, who was Catalan president in 2017, said that Spain should be accountable for the attacks "for its rejection to investigate" the alleged links between Es Satty and Villarejo.

Jordi Munell, the mayor of Ripoll, where imam Abdelbaki Es Satty masterminded the attacks, has also voiced his desire to see an investigation in the Spanish Congress of Deputies. 

Six parties in Spain's Congress will request for a parliamentary committee on the issue to be launched. Junts, ERC, CUP, Bildu, PdeCat and BNG, as well as Més Mallorca, have filed a request to create an inquiry commission.

The groups consider Villarejo’s statements are a very serious accusation of the CNI's collaboration with "jihadist terrorist cells."

According to the text that has been filed in Congress, the committee seeks to know the relationship between the imam responsible for the attacks and the CNI "in detail,” as well as the "remuneration, if any,” the "duration," and "the final objective of this relationship."

Spain dismisses claims

The Spanish government's delegate in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera, has said Villarejo "has no credibility" after making the link between the CNI with the terror attacks. 

"He has a long history of trying to cast shadows of suspicion without ever providing evidence," she told a news conference, adding that "insinuations have no logical or material basis." 

"There is no other explanation than the desire to entangle," she said, before calling on the government not to get involved with the “games” of the former police commissioner.

Spokesperson for the Catalan Socialists, Alícia Romero, disregarded Villarejo's claims as a "conspiracy theory" and shunned the requests for an investigation on the back of words from somebody who "does not have to tell the truth during a trial" and who only wants to "make noise." 

Romero called for respect for the families and said that this discussion will only serve to open the same wounds again.  


Villarejo is currently on trial in Spain’s National Court for what is known as the ‘Tandem case,’ a lawsuit that combines three separate cases into one. The former police official is accused of the crimes of extortion, revelation of secrets, and forgery.

The three cases share a common basis, that a person or company hired Cenyt, the company of Villarejo, to help them with their contacts and knowledge in a business dispute. This would constitute bribery since Villarejo was still an active official in the police force.

Villarejo and his entourage, according to the accusations, searched for compromising information about a person or party, for which they would have used illegal methods such as telephone tapping. This activity potentially constitutes multiple crimes of disclosure of private or business secrets. 

One case relates to a commission Villarejo received from a senior official in the Government of Equatorial Guinea who wanted to discredit one of the sons of president Teodoro Obiang, Gabriel Mbega Obiang.