Are Christians in Spain being targeted by jihadist terrorists or is it all in the mind?

      San Isidro church, where a parish priest was wounded
      (source: Wikipedia).

After a period of relative calm in Europe, jihadist terrorism has reemerged to target churches, especially in Spain, reports Itxu Diaz in First Things magazine (April 18). Diaz writes that two years ago the Islamic State ordered its followers to attack churches in Spain, and recent incidents suggest that “the call is being heeded.” In January, a Moroccan man attacked two churches in the town of Algeciras in southern Spain, wounding a priest, killing a sacristan, assaulting Mass goers, and destroying sacred artifacts. After the attacker tried to break down the door of a third church, he was apprehended by authorities. Two hours before the attack, the FBI alerted Spanish police to another Moroccan jihadist in Gerona who was plotting to attack tourists. And 10 days before the attack, Spanish police had dismantled an Islamic State terrorist cell in Almeria. Also during that time a man shouting in Arabic was arrested for breaking into a basilica in Oviedo (although Spanish authorities did not consider this a jihadist attack).

These incidents followed a terrorist attack on the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, where a Libyan man with a deportation order stabbed six people while shouting “Allah is great.” Last September, two people were killed in Germany from terrorist attacks. Diaz writes that these attacks usually come in waves, and Spain may now be experiencing attacks on Christians and churches that have mainly been seen in France. Among the other incidents in recent years in Spain were a planned major attack during Easter Holy Week in 2019 that was foiled by the police, and another failed attack in 2017, this time on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia (when the detonation of a bomb forced the attackers to change their plans). Diaz charges that Spain’s leftist government has downplayed these attacks and instead focuses on not criminalizing Muslims or the illegal immigration by which the extremists have entered the country. Following the recent spate of attacks in Algeciras, civilian groups have banded together to patrol the main churches of the city during times of worship. Diaz concludes that among Christians there is a spirit of mistrust toward the government on this issue, as it exhibits what they feel to be “Christophobia” on a daily basis.

In an interview with the CTC Sentinel (April), the newsletter of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Military Academy, Catalan terrorism specialists Lluís Paradell Fernandez and Xavier Cortés Camacho say that, rather than anti-Christian terrorism in Spain, they are seeing “a new paradigm that people who could appear in front of our eyes as simple pickpockets in our country are in such sophisticated and current contact with the Islamic State in order to prepare a bombing in the city [of Barcelona]. We have to deal with these two dimensions of the threat. On the one hand, the day-by-day monitoring of people with mental health challenges with the potential to carry out lone wolf attacks. On the other hand, we have people that don’t have the appearance of being terrorists, but when you look deeply at the information they have in their houses or electronic devices, you can see that they are really deeply connected with these international groups.” Fernandez and Camacho say the attack in Algeciras was “initially considered a terrorist attack but now it seems to not have been so because the perpetrator had mental health challenges…We are monitoring a group of people that have mental health challenges, who are playing with the ideology of jihadism. So they are not really people concerned with this ideology, but they think they are concerned. So the threat is almost bigger because they are not under any kind of personal control and they very usually have problems with people in the street, so they could act with a knife or something similar at any moment.”

(First Things,; CTC Sentinel,