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Secret services warn of risk of jihadist attack against Spaniards in Sahara region

Spanish foreign ministry advises against travel to southwestern Algeria at a time when many people fly there to visit Sahrawi refugees

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Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui swears allegiance to the Islamic state in 2015 in a propaganda video.

Spain’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued an alert advising against travel to Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, in southwestern Algeria, due to the risk of a terrorist attack.

According to information from “reliable sources,” an attack against Spanish citizens and interests in the area is “in an advanced state of preparation,” according to government sources.

They have the ability to do it, they are determined to do it, and there are precedents

Counter-terrorism expert

Experts feel that Spanish citizens are a preferred target for jihadists, who consider Spain one of their biggest enemies after France and the United States.

“They have the ability to do it, they are determined to do it, and there are precedents,” said an expert about a potential attack on the Tindouf camps.

The warning comes from intelligence services operating in the region, and it points at the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), a jihadist organization led by Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui, who was born in Western Sahara when the disputed territory was still under Spanish control.

The Spanish government is worried about the more than 100 Spanish non-profit workers at the Tindouf refugee camps in southwestern Algeria, which were set up in 1975 for Sahrawis fleeing Moroccan occupation when Spain gave up the possession.

There are over 100 Spanish non-profit workers at the Tindouf refugee camps

Many more Spaniards regularly travel to these camps as part of a volunteer program called Vacaciones en Paz (Vacation in Peace), which each summer welcomes around 4,000 Sahrawi children aged eight through 12 into Spanish homes during the months of July and August.

Many of these Spanish families later go visit their young guests in Tindouf, either during the Christmas holidays or in early December, when there are two back-to-back public holidays. At these times, the Spanish population in Tindouf increases tenfold. This coming Saturday alone, 320 Spaniards are expected to travel to the area in two chartered flights.

The ministry warning is generic, noting that “growing instability in the north of Mali and the ensuing increase in terrorist activity in the region could affect the area where the Tindouf camps are located; we advise against travel in the area.”

At this time of the year, the Spanish population in Tindouf increases tenfold

But sources consulted by EL PAÍS said that the threat is “real, concrete and close” and based on reliable sources from intelligence services working in the area.

The ISIS-GS was founded in 2015 as an offshoot of Al Murabitum, Al Qaeda’s branch in the Sahel region of Africa. Its leader, Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui, was born in Laayoune, the capital of the former Spanish Sahara. On April 29, in a video released by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader who killed himself a month ago while under siege by US troops in Syria, the latter is seen accepting allegiance from Al-Saharaui.

The US has included ISIS-GS on its list of terrorist organizations and offered a $5 million reward for its leader. The group’s attacks have killed over 100 people in the month of November alone. So far, the attacks have taken place in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, but not in Algeria.

Algeria will be holding presidential elections on December 12 to replace the historical leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned on April 2 following mass protests over his plan to run for re-election despite serious health problems.

English version by Susana Urra.

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