The mayor of Vilvoorde, near Brussels, Hans Bonte, has said in an interview with the press agency Efe that Spanish authorities -without specifying which police body- had been contacted by his town council to ask for them for the criminal record of the imam of Ripoll, Abdelbaki Es Satty, after suspicions arose about his behaviour.
The imam, who lived in the small city in the Flemish Brabant at the start of 2016, had aroused distrust in the local Muslim community which, finally, decided to expel him from the mosque.
Due to this incident, Bonte became interested in the imam's past, who said he came from Spain. He contacted "Spanish authorities" but they did not have any proof or direct link between the man and terrorist acts or other criminality. Nonetheless, it is known that the man had been imprisoned for four years for drug trafficking and was related to the terrorists behind the 2004 Madrid bombings.
Bonte's suspicions were never communicated to the authorities in Catalonia, where Es Satty had lived and worked for years. The same thing happened with the police record that described the imam as "a disciple of one of the main suspects arrested in the 'Chacal I' operation by the National Police against jihadist terrorism in 2007".
This last information, known by the Civil Guard and the National Police, was never passed on to the Mossos (Catalan police) either. Yesterday this was paradoxically communicated publicly by two of the biggest police unions in Spain, who criticised the Catalan authorities' ignorance of this fact, which they were never told of.
The passage of the imam through Vilvoorde
The mayor of the Belgian city explained that "the imam of the neighbouring town of Diegem came to ask us about him, because he was living in Vilvoorde. He seemed to them to be a strange man, who said he came from Spain because he had no future there and who proclaimed himself imam, even though he had no paper to prove it."
The imam of Diegem, close to Vilvoorde, was interesting in knowing if the Ripoll imam had a police record, since he had doubts about his past, a past that the man wouldn't reply to further questions about.
"Even though there was no proof nor police record, the Muslim community of the area decided to expel him from the mosque", said Bonte, who said he felt very proud that it was the Muslim community "who went straight to the police, and it doesn't always happen like this in other places".
The mayor, who some years ago made the anti-jihadist fight into a priority in the city, said that his "method", recognised even by former US president Barack Obama, involves getting the whole community involved in prevention.
Information problems in the EU
On the other hand, Bonte has pointed out that what happened in Barcelona raises "many questions". "How can it be that somebody with problems in Spain could travel freely around the European Union", he asked. "It's a great European matter to argue", Bonte said, adding that "information has to be better communicated between countries of the European Union".
"Now I have read that he had been expelled from the country and that he might have been in contact with terrorism suspects", said the Belgian mayor, referring to reports that link the Ripoll imam with one of the people implicated in the attacks on 11th March 2004 in Madrid.
Asked whether he had been in contact with Spanish authorities or Barcelona City Council, Bonte said that his local police had been in contact "intensely" in the last few days with the police (without specifying if he meant the Catalan Mossos or the National Police). "They have contacted us several times to ask again. We've given them all the information we have," he added.