BARCELONA, Spain – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Monday that “jihadi terrorism is a direct threat” to European and other countries, opening a key regional meeting in Barcelona to discuss the fight against terrorism and other issues.
Twenty-nine foreign ministers from the European Union, North Africa and the Middle East are attending the one-day meeting, hosted by Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo and attended by EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini.
“Some people don´t understand that jihadi terrorism is a direct threat for the security of our countries and our citizens and constitutes the main threat nowadays,” Rajoy said in opening remarks.
“Nobody should fall in the gross deception that jihadism represents Islam… or the fallacy which says that there is an Islamic war against the West,” he added, emphasizing that the Islamic world “is as much a victim of the terrorist scourge as any other (country).”
“I am convinced that a shared commitment between both shores of the Mediterranean will allow us to defeat terrorist barbarism,” he said.
Rajoy urged measures to fight radicalization, stop foreign jihadists from going to fight in Iraq or Syria and to clamp down on financing for militant groups.
The meeting comes only days after 11 people were arrested in Barcelona and surrounding cities on suspicions of planning terrorist attacks in the country.
The suspects were arrested Wednesday, and authorities said they had been scouting out places for potential terrorist attacks, such as the Catalan Parliament, two police stations, a Jewish bookshop and a hotel.
Spanish authorities revealed that the network was planning to kidnap a person in Spain, dress him in the same orange jump suits used by ISIS for victims about to be killed, record an interrogation and slit his throat before a camera.
In the past several months Spain also has broken up a number of ISIS recruiting cells, some especially targeting women. Authorities in Spain say that some 100 Spanish citizens are fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Mogherini noted in her remarks that the situation in Syria and Libya obliges greater cooperation among Mediterranean countries to fight problems such as terrorism and illegal immigration.
The war in Syria and the growing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa have increased the number of illegal immigrants trying to cross to Europe.
Libya and Syria were not invited to the meeting in Barcelona due to their internal issues.
Meanwhile, the French newspaper Le Figaro on Monday quoted EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jouriva as saying that the number of European citizens fighting with jihadist groups in Syria could exceed 6,000.
She said the true number was likely to be far higher due to the difficulty of tracking foreign fighters in the conflict.
By Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti – Rudaw