Did Spanish Authorities Stage the 2017 Barcelona Jihad Attack?

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The allegations were made in Spain, but they have implications for the United States and the entire Western world. Jose Manuel Villarejo, who was at the time a senior officer in Spain’s National Police Corps, has made a startling allegation: he claimed Wednesday that the vehicular attack in Barcelona on Aug. 17, 2017, was staged by the country’s National Intelligence Service (CNI) in order to discourage Catalonians from voting for independence in a referendum that was then upcoming.


The attack was horrifying. A man named Younes Abouyaaqoub drove a van into a crowd of people on La Rambla in Barcelona, murdering 13 and injuring at least 130. According to Scotland’s The National, “five members of the jihadist cell launched a knife attack on the beachfront at Cambrils, having driven there the day after the Barcelona attack. All five men were shot dead by police. Three men who helped in the attacks were last year sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 53 years. It later emerged that the alleged mastermind of the attacks, an imam in the city of Ripoll, was a CNI informant.”

Despite the attack and the threat of instability it brought, Catalonia voted overwhelmingly for independence anyway. However, its bid for independence was ultimately declared void under heavy pressure from the Spanish government.

Was that government tied to the Barcelona attack by more than just an informant? Villarejo, who participated in many “secret” CNI operations, said that the attack was a brainchild of the agency, in “a bid to destabilise Catalonia” so that the Spanish province would vote against independence. Villarejo asserted that the attacks were conceived by the former director of the CNI, Félix Sanz Roldán, but “were a serious mistake.” Sanz Roldán, said Villarejo, “wanted to give Catalonia a fright, but miscalculated the consequences.”

Villarejo declared that he had documentary proof of his charges. “All the evidence is in my archives. I authorize their release. We must think that the citizenry is not a minor and the law of secrets cannot be used to hide everything. It is an obsolete Francoist law from 1968” that keeps such state documents from being released, he said.


Catalan President Pere Aragonès reacted angrily to Villarejo’s allegations, saying that the Barcelona attack was “a barbarity that has marked us forever. And if Villarejo’s words are true, explanations are needed now. We know very well how the state sewers work, so we demand that they be investigated in order to clarify the truth. I have also asked the legal services of the Generalitat [government] to study these statements and the relevant legal actions that can be taken. For the truth. For the victims, for the Catalans and for all those who are on the side of peace and democracy.” Catalan Vice President Jordi Puigneró has also demanded an investigation.

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If an investigation is undertaken and Villarejo’s allegations are confirmed, there will be reverberations all over the West. In the United States, 9/11 conspiracy theorists will gain new impetus for their claims that the catastrophic attacks were an “inside job.” And those who say, not without foundation, that domestic terror attacks foiled by the FBI are more a matter of FBI entrapment rather than actual plotting will see the action of the CNI as confirmation of what they have long assumed.

If what Villarejo says is established as fully accurate, it will also be chilling confirmation that at least one Western government is willing to cause the deaths of its own citizens to advance its political ends. The implications of that, of course, go far beyond the 2017 Barcelona attack, as well as beyond the issue of terrorism in general. Citizens of Western countries, including the United States, have grown accustomed to taking for granted that our governments always act in the best interests of their citizens, and not in a Macchiavellian fashion for their own interests.


That assumption is facing strong challenges today on numerous fronts, most notably in the authoritarianism that has accompanied the COVID-19 hysteria. If what Jose Manuel Villarejo is claiming turns out to be true, it could open the door to other investigations of the motives and goals of government officials in all manner of initiatives. Such investigations, if they uncovered and ended corrupt practices, could only be salutary.


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