Spain’s PM waves off post-attack criticisms

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s prime minister on Friday dismissed criticism about the lack of coordination between Spanish national authorities and those in the widely self-governed Catalonia region during the attacks by an Islamic extremist cell that killed 15 people last week.

The probe into the Aug. 17-18 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils has suggested that the alleged cell leader’s ties to other jihadists and his criminal record for drug trafficking may have been missed because Catalan regional police didn’t have information that was in the hands of central authorities.

A judge had granted permission for police investigators to tap Abdelbaki Es Satty’s mobile phone line in a 2005 investigation into an Al-Qaeda cell in northeastern Spain, newspaper ABC reported Friday, publishing leaked court documents, but the conversations didn’t provide enough evidence to indict him.

Other concerns have been raised by police officers’ unions, who have denounced a decision by pro-independence regional politicians to show a “self-sufficient” Catalonia and exclude other experts in the initial stages of the investigation into the attacks.

The Catalan government has denied the accusations.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday the investigation into the attacks will be coordinated from now on by the Interior Ministry’s organized crime and terrorism intelligence center, CITCO, after representatives of intelligence agencies and police forces met Thursday with judicial authorities at the country’s National Court, which handles terrorism cases.

“From the initial stages, the coordination has been fluid and constant, both at the political decision level and at the technical level of police responsibilities,” Rajoy told reporters.

Spain will also propose new measures to improve European Union coordination in fighting terrorism during a summit in Paris next week with leaders from Germany, Italy and France, Rajoy said. He didn’t elaborate.

The Islamic State group has claimed the attacks, Spain’s deadliest in more than one decade, which also left over 120 people wounded. Eight suspects are dead — including Es Satty, the imam believed to have recruited the other alleged members of the cell. Four more are under investigation, two of them in jail.

“We have suffered strikes like these in our recent history and some even more terrible,” said Rajoy adding that “our democracy has defeated decades of ETA’s terrorism and that of jihadists.”

ETA is a militant group that sought independence for its Basque homeland through violent strikes that killed 829 people until it declared a permanent cease-fire in 2011.