Chechnya’s struggle for independence against Russia and the recent events in Boston bring back memories of what Spain called last year a foiled terrorist plot to fly gliders into the British enclave of Gibraltar. Two Chechens and a Turk were convicted, but later freed when a judge decided there wasn’t enough evidence. Various intelligence agencies reportedly were interested in the incidents, because of the ties to Chechnya.
Authorities say they think the three men had planned to attack Gibraltar during the London Olympics last summer. They say the suspects planned to imitate 9/11.
They all signed up for Paragliding classes. Police say they were seen puttering together at least once over the British enclave. One of them allegedly kept asking the flying instructor, how to take pictures of a Gibraltar shopping centre while flying.
Police say they also found a video of one suspect flying a remote controlled aircraft that you can see dropping a package from the sky — proof, investigators said, of an imminent airborne attack. Then, when the police finally moved in they found enough explosive material in one of the men’s apartments to destroy a bus.
Spain’s Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez, went on TV and said, “This is one of the most important international breakthroughs against al-Qaeda. Through our intelligence network we know these suspects were planning attacks in Spain and or other countries.”
That intelligence network included France, Russia and the U.S., which sent investigators here to question the suspects in person, according to reports in several Spanish newspapers, though The Department of Justice declined to confirm that report.
Spanish officials said the Chechens had trained with extremist groups in Afghanistan. But then about a month ago a Spanish judge released the suspects but the two Chechens were re-arrested leaving prison charged with entering Spain without visas. Meanwhile, the Turkish suspect is out on bail.
The judge cited a lack of evidence in freeing the men. The suspects may have had explosives, but so far investigators have not been able to definitively establish their target. Without one, it’s tough to prove intent to commit terrorism in Spain.
Friday, a spokeswoman for Spain’s interior ministry would only say that the case is ongoing and classified, and that the Chechen men are still in custody. But Spain can only hold the men for 60 more days on the immigration charges, before by law it must set them free.
In the meantime Spain hopes it’s soved the problem by deporting the Chechens back to Russia.