Spain has a special position, especially in the Islamists minds of all their organizations and spectrums, because of the symbolism it holds in their religious, historical, emotional and ideological heritage, as it is a place that once bore the name of Andalusia and was lost by Muslims at the end of the fifteenth century AD.
The issue of “liberating al-Andalus” was part of ISIS’s propaganda and inflammatory rhetoric when the caliphate was declared over parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014. The issue of al-Andalus was previously present with al-Qaeda, in Abdullah Azzam’s books (1) and recordings of al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. The group sought to link the issue of Ceuta and Melilla, the Moroccan territories under Spanish occupation, with Andalusia, on the basis that the liberation of the two cities would be a bridge towards the liberation of the latter.
As for th MB, Spain was at the forefront of the countries that the group was able to penetrate, as part of the expansion policies it achieved in the sixties of the last century within the European countries, after it took root in the idea of “globalization of Dawah”, and also under the weight of persecution and restrictions that affected it in Egypt, Syria and others.
The beginnings of presence
The group’s members began to flock to Spain in the sixties of the last century, and the Syrian MB fleeing the pursuit of the authorities formed the first block of this presence, which gradually strengthened with the arrival of hundreds of students from the Middle East and North Africa to study in Spain, taking advantage of the country’s educational and cultural openness and low cost of living compared to other European countries.
In Spain, the group quickly took advantage of a legislative environment that became more flexible with the Law on Associations in 1964 that allowed non-Catholic religious associations to organize for the first time. They founded an Islamic student association in Granada in 1966, after the Indian extremist preacher Abu al-Hassan al-Nadwi, when he visited Spain in 1965, proposed to them and officially registered it in 1971 at the Spanish Ministry of Justice, under the name Asociación Musulmana en España AME. On 22/4/1974, the statute of the association was amended to enable it to build mosques and Islamic centers across Spain, and then the association opened several branches in different cities of Spain, including the capital Madrid
The founding names of the Spain Islamic Society refer to the Syrian MB’s domination over the scene, as the team of founders included individuals with close ties to Essam al-Attar and others with the fighting vanguard such as Riai Tatari, who held the presidency of the Spanish Islamic Council for a long time until his death with Corona in April 2020, and Salahuddin Nekdli, who later became director of the Islamic Center in Aachen, Germany, and was before leaving Spain in early 1984 as president of the Islamic Society.
Later, the dispute of the Syrian MB in the seventies and early eighties of the last century were reflected in their peers in Spain. In 1978, a group from Muslim League members decided to secede from the association to establish the Islamic Center of Spain (CIE: Centro Islámico en España), the most important of whom was the Syrian preacher and physician Bahij Mullah Huweish (1947-2015), played a key role in organizing meetings in various European countries, which led at the Madrid Conference in 1984 to the establishment of the Muslim Students Association in EU, which is the nucleus of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in EU (FIOE) (now the Council of Muslims of EU).
Over the past two decades, the initial organizations established by the MB over the years have expanded in terms of influence and geography, establishing the group’s presence in Granada, Madrid, Catalonia, and Valencia. At present, the MB’s most active organizations in Spanish circles include the only official Spanish member of the Council of Muslims of Europe, the Islamic League for Dialogue and Coexistence in Spain (LIDCOE), founded in 2004 in Valencia, and affiliated with the Islamic Cultural Center of Valencia (CCIV), and cooperates with the Islamic Cultural Center of Barcelona (CCIC), which was established in 2000.
These centers focus on organizing lectures and public meetings, translating and distributing Islamic books in Spanish, giving weekly religious and language lessons, organizing group trips and annual camps, and reviving religious rituals. Researcher Maria Lozano Alea believes that the ideology of the centers is not extremist in itself, but its affiliates constitute an ideal ground to facilitate extremism and hinder the integration of Muslims into Spanish society. Spain is home to nearly 2.1 million Muslims, including 880,000 Spanish citizens, most of whom are migrants who have been resettled.
According to information from Spanish intelligence, the Spanish MB’s two organizations, the Islamic League for Coexistence and Dialogue, and the Islamic Cultural Council receive significant funding from Qatar. Spain (with 11 projects) ranks third, after France (47) and Italy (22), with projects funded under Qatar Charity’s Ghaith funding program. As of 2015, Qatar Charity had reportedly directed nearly €17,000,000 to various projects in Spain.
Among the organizations associated with the MB’s international organization in Spain is the British organization Islamic Relief Around the World, which has established an active branch in Barcelona. And Muslim Appeal which is active in Valencia.
For 60 years, the MB has worked to form a vast network aimed at exerting broad influence over the Muslim community and spreading extremist ideas among its members, which has had a significant impact on the participation of its members in terrorist operations. Evidence of this is that the starting point for some of the participants in the attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and in Madrid in 2004 was the Abu Dahdah network, founded by Syrian Imad al-Din Barakat Jerks, known as Abu al-Dahdah, and the jihadist professor Mustafa Sitt Mariam Nassar (Abu Musab), developed his jihadist theories in Spain, having been raised under the “fighting vanguard” in Syria.
(1) Abdullah Azzam says in his book “Jihadi Education and Construction” that jihadist action will not stop at Afghanistan, which is only a take-off platform for jihadists, but will continue “until we liberate Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Qafqasia, Shisha and Dagestase and liberate Andalusia, until we liberate every spot for Muslims.”