Former Police Commissioner Says Spanish Intelligence Behind 2017 Barcelona Attack

5 min readJan 24, 2022


In shocking testimony that invokes the revelations of Operation Gladio in the Italian parliament in the 1990s, nearly five years after the ’17 Barcelona terrorist attack, former police commissioner Jose Manuel Villarejo has revealed that the Spanish intelligence agency CNI was directly involved in the plot that killed two dozen people and injured one hundred others.

Villarejo revealed that the CNI was controlling the terrorist plot with an intelligence asset embedded within the terrorist cell. However, Villarejo suggests that the CNI lost control of the operation when their asset embedded in the cell was reportedly killed in an accidental explosion along with another member of the cell one day before the attack. The explosives were intended to be used in their planned terror plot but without explosives, the remainder of the cell sought to conduct their attack using vehicles and knives the following day.

What I have said in relation to the scare is that many times fictitious commands have been provoked to reassure and such, and that, probably, the intention was not at all to provoke any attack, but to give the appearance of risk so that Catalonia felt the need for the protection of the State, and it got out of hand when the imam died and the little ones, youngsters, [the rest of the members of the cell] did’t know how to react”, explained Villarejo in statements to the press.

If so, why did the CNI not move in to arrest the known suspects in the cell immediately after the explosion on August 16, one day before the members of the cell carried out their deadly attack?

On August 17, 2017, members of the terror cell drove a van into the Las Ramblas shopping street in Barcelona, Spain ​​killing 14 people and injuring at least 118 others. While fleeing the scene, one perpetrator attacked another person with a knife. The following night, five other attackers who were traveling in another car with axes and knives were shot dead by police. The surviving members of this cell have now sentenced to between eight and 53 years in prison from May 2021.

The plot was led by Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty — an intelligence asset for the Spanish CNI. Satty directed the terror cell consisting of twelve suspects in total, including some of whom attended the mosque where Es Satty worked as imam and asset for the CNI.

The CNI initially recruited Satty while he was incarcerated in Castellón, Spain for drug trafficking from 2010 to 2014. When Satty was due to be deported in 2015 the deportation was stopped by a court because he was deemed not to pose a “sufficiently serious risk”. Spain’s secret services used Abdelbaki Es Satty deportation risk as leverage to hire him as an informant. Once released from prison Satty went to Ripoll where he began working as an Imam and serve as an intelligence asset for the CNI — a mosque crawler. The intelligence agency had “fixed recommendations and guarantors” so that Satty would be admitted as imam in the Ripoll mosque. CNI’s intention was for him to infiltrate in the European jihadist networks as he did when he was embedded within the 2017 attacker’s cell.

In 2017, following the attacks, when this information began to surface, Catalan President Puigdemont condemned the Spanish state saying that the revelations “confirmed” their suspicions about the attacks. Puigdemont went on to emphasize the “extremely serious” lack of repercussions for the Spanish state following the revelations.

By 2019, Spanish newspaper Público’ obtained and published emails between the Satty and the secret services. In order to avoid their messages being traced, the CNI and Satty communicated by writing emails to each other and leaving the messages in draft form, avoiding sending them over the internet. Then they would each log into the same account to check for messages. According to ‘Público’, the password for this email account was found among the debris of the house that blew up in Alcanar, in southern Catalonia one day before the cell carried out their deadly plot.

According to a report in 2019, Spanish intelligence also knew about the movements of other cell members, at least from December 2016 onwards, eight months before the attacks. It has also been revealed that the CNI had tracked the movements of at least some of the cell members across four countries, tracked their vehicle locations and even surveilled telephone conversations as part of its investigation into the cell. It has been revealed that the CNI was tracking the movements of some of the terrorists in the cell at least five days before the deadly attack.

By 2019, Catalonian President Torra asked for an explanation to the Spanish government and for the authorities to “take the highest responsibility.” Additionally, Catalonias two governing parties, Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra, had called for an investigative committee to be established in Spain’s congress in order to investigate the state’s involvement in the terrorist plot. The parties also requested the Spanish president and the head of CNI in ‘17 to speak about the issue before the chamber. Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, asked for the Spanish cabinet to “go all the way to the end” to clarify the issue. “It is essential that there is absolute transparency and that all details are known. Citizens need it, and above all, the victims.” Furthermore, the mayor of the town of Girona, Jordi Munell has demanded that the government and the parties represented in Congress create an investigation commission on the link between the CNI and the attacks. Speaking to journalists, Munell has assured that the former commissioner’s words “reveal that there is a hidden plot that goes beyond what has been known so far” about the event.

The truth about this case is only starting to be revealed. Stay tuned to this blog for further coverage on this case and others like it.




To Detect Or Disclose A Secret Crime; To Bring To Judgment