Webinar – A View to a Border: 2. Operational Challenges to Counter Terrorism in the context of Cross-border Cooperation & Information Sharing

In Cooperation with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT)


9am EST / 1pm UK / 2pm CET

Operational challenges in the context of interagency cooperation and information sharing to counter terrorism and stem the flow of returning FTFs.

  • Session 1: Case Study: Spain’s experience from M-11 to the 2017 Barcelona attacks
  • Session 2: Interactive Dialogue
  • Q & A

Spain suffered the most deadly terrorist attack in European history on March 11, 2004, when the blasts from ten bombs on four Madrid-bound commuter trains killed 191 people. Measures taken after the Madrid attacks included the adoption of the EU Directive on Advance Passenger Information (API), improvement of border control, judicial cooperation, and information exchange, as well as the appointment of an EU counter-terrorism coordinator. The Spanish-Moroccan cooperation and the exchange of information between the two neighboring countries were key elements during the investigation of the attacks that led to the prosecution and conviction of the Moroccan citizens involved in these terrorist acts.

More than fifteen years after those horrific events, Spain remains a target for terrorist organizations. Moreover, like other European countries, it is facing an increasing radicalization phenomenon that may lead to violent extremism and home-grown terrorism. In recent years, the Spanish government has largely focused on preventing attacks from the growing threat of extremism and the recruitment of would-be foreign terrorist fighters, who pose a security threat upon their return from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Libya. Between the 2004 Madrid train bombings and 2016, Spain arrested approximately 600 alleged terrorists. On August 17th and 18th 2017, Spain suffered two vehicular-ramming attacks in the tourist areas of Barcelona and Cambrils, that claimed 15 lives and injured more than 100 others.

The 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2017 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were orchestrated primarily by Moroccan nationals that had been radicalized while living in Spain. Of the 21 Moroccans implicated in the devastating 11-M attacks, 19 had reportedly been radicalized in Spain. Similarly, eight of the 10 individuals that were part of the terrorist cell involved in the 2017 Barcelona and Cambrils attacks were Moroccan nationals that had been radicalized in Spain by Abdelbaki Essati, a local imam from the city of Ripoll and the mastermind of the attacks. Essati, who died in an explosion on the day before the vehicular attack in Barcelona, communicated with members of ISIS’s external operations wing.

Understanding, anticipating, and effectively addressing current and emerging terrorism and security threats are critically important but are also among the most challenging tasks of the law enforcement community. Terrorists and their affiliates often move across borders and regions in order to recruit, establish new cells and areas of influence, plan and organize attacks, avoid detection and arrest, finance their activities, and return to their countries of origin.

Timely access to critical information about identified or suspected terrorist activity is central to counter-terrorism efforts. The exchange of information and cross-border cooperation are critical tools for investigations into transnational crimes as well as for the identification of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) (including returnees and relocators) as well as the organized criminal networks that facilitate their travel. Enhancing the sharing of operational information on terrorists and FTFs, including biometric data, assist in building situational awareness of travel routes and modus operandi so that coordinated measures for prevention and prosecution may be strategically implemented. However, information exchange and inter-agency cooperation, both within and between countries, while routinely touted as critical components of border security and management, have historically been difficult to achieve and remain significant challenges.

The objective of the webinar is to raise awareness of the need to address terrorist threats and cross-border challenges through effective information sharing within a regional approach. Furthermore, it will offer a platform to highlight the importance of inter-agency coordination and cooperation at the national, regional and interregional levels in the adoption and implementation of operational response measures within a rule of law framework to comply with the obligations set forth in the relevant international instruments (especially those on human rights, refugee and international humanitarian law) to enable Member States to better address the terror-crime nexus and effectively protect their borders against potential incursions by terrorists, traffickers and other transnational criminals. Finally, it will also enable representatives of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to discuss common issues and share identified good practices and lessons learned on the available tools and technological developments.


Opening Remarks: Mr. Rocco Messina, Head, UNCCT-BSM Unit

Keynote Speakers:

  • H.E. Amb. María Bassols Delgado, Deputy Permanent Representative of Spain to the UN
  • Mr. Edmund Fitton-Brown, Coordinator, United Nations ISIL-Al-Qaeda-Taliban Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

Session 1: Case Study: Spain’s experience from 11-M to the 2017 Barcelona attacks

  • Dr. Fernando Reinares, Director, Violent Radicalization and Global Terrorism Programme at Elcano Royal Institute – Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University.

Session 2: Interactive Discussion:

  • Mr. Edmund Fitton-Brown, Coordinator, United Nations ISIL-Al-Qaeda-Taliban Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.
  • Dr. Fernando Reinares, Director, Violent Radicalization and Global Terrorism Programme at the Elcano Royal Institute – Adjunct Professor,Georgetown University
  • Dr. Esther Zubiri, UNOCT-UNCCT Senior Expert