Misc 05/12/2020

The imam Es-Satty and the mysteries that the 17-A trial will not solve

The most indecipherable figure of the attacks appears and disappears fast in court

Pau Esparch
4 min
1. Les runes  De la casa d’Alcanar que va saltar pels aires durant la preparació dels explosius per part dels terroristes.  2. L’imam Albdelbaki 
 Es-Satty, el catalitzador de la cèl·lula de Ripoll del 17-A.

BarcelonaWas Ripoll's imam Abdelbaki Es-Satty a confidant of the CNI during the attacks of August 2017? Was he the mastermind of the terrorist attacks? These are two of the many questions that still surround Es-Satty, the most controversial figure of 17-A. The trial in the National Court, far from trying to clarify the mysteries that remain, continues to focus the statements on the only three defendants - and does not delve into the rest. However, that does not prevent that, very occasionally, Es-Satty and his role in the massacre are mentioned. This occurs despite Judge Alfonso Guevara, who does not leave much room for discussing the issue.

Secret Services

The imam boasted of being in contact with the Spanish Secret Services (CNI), which has not been clarified

"I once saw him talking to some people, who later told me that they were Spanish secret agents", maintains the president of a Belgian Islamic community where Es-Satty wanted to act as an imam at the beginning of 2016. Without having planned it previously, Monday was the first day of the trial - and surely the last - focused on Es-Satty. Not only because of the Belgian declaration, which had previously been ratified by a civil guard who had investigated him, but also because of his relationship with the Islamic community of Ripoll, and his brief stay in Castellón after being released from prison for drug trafficking.

Nevertheless, it seems that talking of the Es-Satty-CNI link has been prohibited, since, if it had not been for Belgium, it would not have been discussed. Of course, the trial has already started with this intention and no defendant is to be tried for murder. More details are given in the summary of the judicial case of the relationship between the imam and the Spanish secret services -because it is stated that the CNI and the Civil Guard visited the imam in the prison of Castellón - than in what has been explained so far in the National Court. Nor will any witness intervene to specify, once and for all, what contacts Es-Satty had with the CNI, and until when. The truth that the victims long for will continue on the list of debts together with the Parliament commission that some political parties did not want.

Agents del CNI i la Guàrdia Civil van visitar Es Satty 4 cops a la presó

A diffuse leadership

He led the Ripoll group, but it is not known if he was following someone's orders

It was quickly taken for granted that the imam was the "brain" of the attacks - this has been the word that has been used the most -, but as time has passed this leadership has faded a bit. It is not disputed that Es-Satty led the Ripoll cell, although his role is somewhat ambivalent. From the outset, three of the youngsters who made up the group were consuming jihadist propaganda before Es-Satty settled in their municipality. That is why it is said that the imam was a catalyst and not a radicalizer; in other words, the boys already had an interest in jihadism.

But who devised the plan of attack? Is Es-Satty really the mastermind behind the attacks? It is not easy to answer, because the investigation has not clarified anything on the trips that the imam made to Belgium and Morocco shortly before the attacks. Nor on other terrorists’ visits to France. There is no record of the cell's contacts with Islamic State fighters, and that raises doubts as to whether Es-Satty - and the rest of the group - received orders from someone outside who has not been identified.

Radicalization efforts

He had already tried to capture two young people, and since 2014 he wanted to plan a terrorist attack

What the trial has shown is that the radicalization of Es-Satty has been going on for a long time, and proof of this is its attempt to attract two young converts to Islam in 2014 in Castellón, when he had just been released from prison and was already an imam. He had already stated that he wanted to plan a terrorist attack, but they did not take it seriously: "I thought he wasn’t OK. He was paranoid", said at the trial one of the boys whom he tried to radicalize by showing him videos of the Islamic State.

Contrast of suspicions

In Ripoll they did not question him, but in other places he was mistrusted

At the Belgian mosque, they suspected Es-Satty when he said that he spoke to the secret services and did not provide his criminal record certificate, and they alerted the police. However, in Ripoll they did not check his background, and those responsible for the mosque where he worked before the attacks declared on Monday that the imam had "two faces". Until 17-A they had not questioned Es-Satty, and the community spokesperson confirmed, as he had said, that the National Police had visited them three times - visits that had been framed as normal.

However, the imam had not been so well received in other places because, apart from in Belgium and Castellón, he had been mistrusted elsewhere. The book Sense por de morir. Els silencis del 17-A [“No fear of dying. The silences of 17-A”] states that Es-Satty also tried, without success, to be an imam in Balaguer and Berga.

Spiraling doubts

A mysterious figure

Elements linked to Es-Satty always end up posing questions which have very few answers. What was his van doing, after the Alcanar explosion, parked in Sant Carles de la Ràpita? How was it proved that the remains of Alcanar were his? On this last question, forensics explained on Thursday that the genetic profile of an ear found in Alcanar matched samples located on the floor and in the imam's van, even though it could not be determined that they belonged to him. To find out, a family member had to provide DNA. This test was conducted in Morocco and the forensic experts who carried it out were expected to testify at the trial, as proposed by the lawyer of the parents of the boy from Rubi who died on the Rambla. However, in the end they will not appear, because Morocco has asked them to respond in writing, with a rogatory commission, claiming that there is no "regulatory legal basis" for intervening via a video conference. The answer is not expected before the end of the trial.