Security is tight in a tense Barcelona – with just hours to go until Catalonia possibly declares independence from Spain. Police are guarding public buildings and have closed off a park surrounding the regional parliament – amid concerns that an attempt to break away from Madrid could be met with a harsh response from Spanish authorities. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has not revealed the precise message he will deliver at 6pm local time (5pm UK time), but separatist politicians have said they expect a declaration based on the results of the disputed independence referendum on 1 October. Ahead of the announcement, Barcelona’s mayor said the Catalan referendum is not enough for the region to declare independence from Spain.
Image: Catalan President Carles Puigdemont presides over a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning
Ada Colau said the results of the vote “can’t be a guarantee to proclaim independence but are the opportunity to build dialogue and international mediation”. She appealed to Spain’s prime minister and Catalonia’s political leader to “decrease tension on both sides”, adding that “now is the time to build bridges”. Ms Colau also urged Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to pull out the extra police that have been drafted in to the northeast region as a “gesture of state responsibility”.
Image: Highway management company Abertis is the latest firm to pull out of Catalonia
As many in Spain await what would be a major escalation in the constitutional crisis, more firms have said they are pulling out of the region. Highway management company Abertis and telecoms company Cellnex have joined a growing list of companies moving their headquarters elsewhere. Both are part of Spain’s Ibex 35 index of top listed companies. Abertis and Cellnex said they were pulling out for as long as there is uncertainty about the region’s future.
Image: People have marched for Spanish unity in recent days Image: Hundreds of thousands turned out in Barcelona
They join a slew of companies that are moving, including property group Inmobiliaria Colonial, Banco Sabadell, CaixaBank and energy firm Gas Natural. Publishing house Grupo Planeta also warned it will move to Madrid if independence is declared. Spain’s deputy prime minister earlier warned of a tough response if Catalonia’s political leader, Carlos Puigdemont, decides to announce a split from Spain. Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told COPE radio that “if they declare independence, there will be decisions to restore the law and democracy”. He added: “I’m calling on the sensible people in the Catalan government.. .
don’t jump off the edge because you’ll take the people with you.” The crisis in the region follows an illegal referendum that was condemned by many because of the heavy-handed approach by police. Around 900 people were reportedly hurt when officers seized ballot boxes, fired rubber bullets and forcibly dragged people out of polling stations. Catalonia’s leaders said 90% of the 43% who turned out voted ‘yes’. However, hundreds of thousands of people have turned out for anti-independence rallies, including in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona1, since the vote. The region’s referendum law states that a declaration would start a six-month process of divorce talks with Spain and regional elections.
- Image: Barcelona may be the capital of the Catalan region but thousands gathered there on Sunday in support of unity
- Image: Organisers claimed a million people joined the march . Swipe through for more pictures
Mr Puigdemont appeared steadfast on Sunday, saying a ‘yes’ vote necessitated an independence declaration.
“We will apply what the law says,” he told TV3. Mr Rajoy has not ruled out the “nuclear option” of removing the Catalan government and calling fresh regional elections. Pedro Sanchez, leader of Spain’s main opposition party, is also backing the government’s response if an independence declaration is made. Mr Sanchez said “a unilateral declaration of independence doesn’t have a place in a state ruled by law”. He told reporters in Barcelona: “The same way that we are offering our hand for a dialogue, we will also support the state’s response if coexistence among Spaniards is broken unilaterally”.
Football clubs should ban bags at grounds, a former national counter-terrorism adviser said yesterday. Newcastle have already asked fans not to take bags to matches, a move welcomed by one of the club s fans groups. But Lee Dodderidge believes the heightened terror threat means clubs should bar the vast majority of fans from carrying bags to matches to minimise the need for searches and reduce the security threat.
Dodderidge, who also advised on security at the London 2012 Olympics, said: Venues like stadiums, there is a high volume of footfall where they ve got to get people in as quickly as possible.
In today s current climate, where terrorist groups are looking at targeting large groups of people like the vehicle attack that we ve just witnessed in Barcelona, you can remove that opportunity by not having large amounts of people waiting for people in front of them to have bags searched.
We have to make sure that people can come and enjoy a football match, but in doing so make sure that everybody else is safe coming into a football stadium. Newcastle issued advice to fans attending games, including reinforcing the club policy to search all bags at entry points to the ground and asking fans to minimise what they carry to matches. Steve Storey, head of safety and security at Newcastle, said: The safety of all supporters is of paramount importance to us and various measures have been introduced to improve security in and around the stadium.
While the police are keen to emphasise that there is no intelligence to suggest that our stadium is a target for any terrorist activity, these measures are a reasonable and proportionate measure to take in light of recent attacks elsewhere.
Europe’s cities have had to get used to the fact that, of late, the terror threat they face has increased both in size and complexity. The atrocities in Barcelona and Cambrils1 are the latest examples of this. The continent’s police and security agencies have long known that the demise of the so-called Islamic State would signal an increase in the tempo of attacks, and definitely not an end to the threat of Islamist extremists. Three attacks in the UK in as many months were the first indication of the nightmare scenario they feared; that the leaders of this rapidly disintegrating so-called caliphate would compel their footsoldiers to launch attacks across the West. After all, the model for this kind of scenario played out more than a decade ago, when the most feared terror group at that time, al Qaeda, felt the full wrath of coalition airstrikes and ground operations.
Al Qaeda’s leaders urged their followers to strike back – and they duly did, launching attacks in London in 2005 and here in Spain in the capital, Madrid, a year earlier. For the security services, the complicating factor this time around is not just that IS has fully trained killing machines who have trodden the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The terror group has an even larger army of “sleeper” extremists in towns and cities across the European continent and beyond. Most of these radicalised individuals – 3,500 in the UK alone – have never even been to the Middle East . They learned their deadly craft online. And increasingly they have turned to a less sophisticated, but just as deadly, mode of attack. What do we mean by less sophisticated ?
Vehicles and knives . Essentially everyday items that were never meant to murder or maim. Security sources have told me that they face a two-pronged threat. Alongside those battle-hardened jihadis are the violent wannabe jihadis who lack the skills, but are just as determined to inflict their brand of misery – often on their own communities. Authorities here in Spain and elsewhere in Europe have noticed an alarming increase in the number of those who seem to choose the path of violence.
Most of these plots get disrupted before they have a chance to kill and injure innocent civilians, but sadly some slip through the net.
The unfortunate truth here, is that a net increase in plots will result in a net increase in successful attacks.