His Excellency Ambassador Jorge Dezcaller, Embassy of SpainBookmark and Share


Ambassadors Roundtable

November 12, 2008




As part of the Ambassadors Roundtable Series on International Collaboration to Combat Terrorism and Insurgencies, the Homeland Security Policy Institute hosted Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar of Spain on November 12, 2008.

Ambassador Dezcallar discussed Spain’s experience with terrorism in recent years and shared lessons learned. He noted that this is a time of heightened risk in Spain due to the activities of Basque separatists known as ETA, radical Islamists, and the presence of Spanish troops in Afghanistan. In response to a question from HSPI Director Frank Cilluffo regarding the nature of external and internal threats to Spain, Ambassador Dezcallar stated that ETA is “narcissistic and fading” but remains an “immediate threat.” Islamist terrorist groups both inside and outside Spain also present a growing and long-term threat.

Each type of threat requires a tailored response. For example, ETA has increasingly lost support because the Basque people have used their voice in the political system, while Spain has taken measures to undercut both weapons and financing available to the group. Spain has had some measure of success quelling the diminishing ETA. Ambassador Dezcallar lauded the intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Spain, including the cooperation of these agencies on an internal, national, and regional level—particularly with the French, as important aspects of Spain’s success. However, he underscored that the most crucial aspect is the decline of support for ETA by the Basque people. Sympathizers with ETA have been using the political process, rather than taking up arms, to vent their grievances. Coupled with the people’s fatigue from the long conflict and the higher standard of living the Basque country enjoys, Ambassador Dezcallar believes ETA is well on its way to decline.

In addition, Spain has engaged in regional cooperation to thwart terrorists from Algeria and Morocco seeking sympathizers and support in Spain. Understanding the local picture from Casablanca to Madrid puts political, socioeconomic, and ideological grievances in context for policymakers to better understand how to counter radical Islamists. The election cycle also brings with it a window of vulnerability – terrorists may attempt to alter the outcome and test new leaders. As the terrorists groups have learned and adapted to Spanish counterterrorism measures, so Spain and its allies must adapt techniques and methods as well—however, the causes behind terrorism must also be addressed. Much of the success of terrorist attacks relies on luck. Ambassador Dezcallar argued that we cannot depend on luck on our part—we need to figure out how to protect ourselves better without damaging our fundamental values and freedoms.

Ambassador Dezcallar contended that terrorism in general must be combated on three levels. There is the fight against terrorism itself, the fight against its causes, and the need to define terrorism. Each country should operate under a clear definition of terrorism, in order to bring these criminals to justice and also to prevent abuses of power. As Cilluffo noted, “on top of everything else terrorism may be, it is a criminal act.” Ambassador Dezcallar argued further that heavy-handed measures against terrorism should be taken only when absolutely necessary. The importance of oversight and parliamentary control was referenced as was the need to act in accordance with international law. At the same time, we must address the needs of people who feel alienated from society and are not participating in the political process.

Going forward, Ambassador Dezcallar recommends bolstering the human intelligence capabilities of the United States. Additionally, he suggested that current trends of sharing and relying on the expertise of allies fighting against our common adversaries should continue. Ambassador Dezcallar closed his remarks by reminding his audience that political leaders must help the public to match expectations of protection with reality. Though the balance has tilted in favor of security, “more restrictions do not mean more security” – we can reduce vulnerability, but we “can’t protect everything, everywhere, all the time.”




As part of the November 12, 2008 Roundtable with Spanish Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar, the Homeland Security Policy Institute prepared a resource page where you will find some useful links to recent reports, government agencies and other relevant information.


Reports & Remarks:

France Arrests Suspected ETA Leader,” The New York Times (November 18, 2008)

French police have arrested one of the highest-ranking operational leaders of the Basque militant group ETA, French and Spanish authorities said.

Spanish troops die in Afghanistan,” BBC (November 9, 2008).

“Two Spanish soldiers have been killed and another seriously hurt in a suicide bomb attack in western Afghanistan...[as a result of a] Taleban suicide bomber.”


Son of Osama bin Laden loses asylum bid in Spain,” Associated Press (November 6, 2008).

“Spain rejected an asylum request from a son of Osama bin Laden on Wednesday after deciding he had not met the conditions necessary for him to remain.”


Car bomb at Spanish University,” The New York Times (October 30, 2008).

“A car bomb injured 16 people Thursday at a university in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona after police searched the wrong campus for explosives following a telephone call purportedly from the Basque separatist group ETA warning of an imminent attack, Spanish authorities said.”


Anatomy of Spain’s 28 Disrupted Jihadist Networks, CTC Sentinel (October 2008).

The author analyzes the 28 operations against jihadist networks carried out by Spanish security forces since the march 11, 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid. The article analyzes the main characteristics of the foiled networks: their origin, functions and potential links to wider terrorist organizations. It finds that the majority of those involved in Spanish terrorist plots are of Algerian and Moroccan descent, their primary role is logistics work, and the majority of cells have been linked to wider terrorist organizations.


The Other Terrorism,” by Judith Miller, City Journal (Spring 2008).

‘”Because most of the world has focused on al-Qaida and its allied groups, it’s easy for outsiders to overlook the continuing danger of ETA—a seemingly anachronistic ‘national liberation’ force in an ever more globalized world. In 2007, ETA managed to kill only five people [in Spain]. But over the last three decades, its attacks have claimed over 830 lives, and its ongoing commitment to violence has provided leverage to the separatist politicians associated with the Basque “cause,” even as they denounce terrorism….For good reason, Spain has proved reluctant to return to anything that might remotely recall the Franco era’s dictatorial rule. So the nation’s antiterror campaign is deliberately low-key.”


Setting an Example? Counter-Terrorism Measures in Spain,” Human Rights Watch (January 2005).

“The March 11, 2004 deadly attack in Madrid focused the world’s attention and compassion on Spain….Spanish authorities had long considered Spain a recruitment and logistical operations site for al-Qaeda. Soon after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, Spanish authorities launched a multi-phased police operation to dismantle an alleged al-Qaeda cell located in Spain; most of those detained had been under police surveillance for several years. That Spain should become a direct target for al-Qaeda shocked a nation already weary from four decades of internal political violence. Since the 1960s, ETA has waged a violent campaign to establish an independent state in what is now the autonomous Basque region in northern Spain and a part of southwestern France. The March 11 bombings – referred to in Spain as 11-M – added an international dimension to Spain’s struggle against terrorism….Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that current antiterrorism provisions in Spanish criminal law and code of procedure violate fundamental guarantees under international human rights law, and provide inadequate safeguards against ill-treatment in detention and the violations of the right to a fair trial.”


Spain Alarmed by Recent Terrorist Attacks in North Africa,” By John C. K. Daly, Terrorism Focus (April 24, 2007).

“[In 2006] the major concern in the Spanish Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla was controlling illegal immigrants, as swarms of Africans attempted to flock into the two cities as an entry point to Europe. Now, however, Spanish authorities are concerned that terrorist violence might impact the two cities, where the authorities are already on heightened alert because of high-profile terrorist trials in Madrid. The recent terrorist incidents in Morocco and Algeria have also heightened this concern.”


The Threat of Grassroots Jihadi Networks: A Case Study from Ceuta, Spain,” By Javier Jordán, Robert Wesley, Terrorism Focus (February 15, 2007).

“On December 12, 2006, Spanish police executed a spectacular counter-terrorism operation in the neighborhood of "Príncipe Alfonso" in Ceuta (a Spanish city located in North Africa, just south of Gibraltar). Those arrested belonged to a grassroots jihadi group planning attacks on local targets in the Spanish enclave. The following analysis emphasizes the principal characteristics of this former jihadi network and explores two issues of particular importance: 1) the relationship between the network's members and Spanish soldiers garrisoned in Ceuta, and 2) the inclusion and importance of the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla in jihadi rhetoric as Muslim territories that must be liberated from their infidel occupation.”


Spain’s Counter-Terrorism Policy Under Challenge by Al-Qaeda and E.T.A.,” By Soeren Kern, Power and Interest News Report (July 6, 2007).

“The Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (E.T.A.), in a June [2007] statement…said that it would end a 15-month cease-fire and resume its terrorist campaign ‘on all fronts to defend the Basque homeland.’ The declaration comes less than three months after al-Qaeda issued new threats against Spain, this time over its military deployment in Afghanistan….The dual terrorist threats, one from at home and the other from abroad, confirm what many political analysts have been saying for a long time: Despite the best intentions of the Spanish government, its counter-terrorism policy has not yielded the desired results. Indeed, the terrorist menace is posing a formidable political challenge to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has been widely criticized even from within his own party for a series of policy missteps that have contributed to Spain's deteriorating security situation.”


European Approaches to Homeland Security and Counterterrorism,” Congressional Research Service (July 24, 2006).

“The March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid threw into sharp relief the threat of Islamist terrorism in Spain….Spanish authorities later said that the Al-Qaeda-linked Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group was involved in the attacks. Prime Minister Zapatero has been careful to note that he does not see a military solution to the problem of terrorism, preferring to focus on law enforcement cooperation and by pursuing an ‘alliance of civilizations’ with the Muslim world….Spain, unlike the United States, has rejected a wholesale reorganization of its homeland security institutions. This is due in large part to the decades-long struggle with the Basque terrorist movement Eta….Another factor conditioning Spain’s approach to the issue of homeland security is that the Socialists, and many other Spaniards, are leery of draconian security polices, due to the country’s experience with Franco’s authoritarian rule.”


Muslims in Europe: Integration Policies in Selected Countries,” Congressional Research Service (November 18, 2005).

“The March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid threw into sharp relief the issue of the integration of Muslims into Spanish society. Before the attacks, Spain had made limited progress in this area, due in part to the relative recentness of the immigration (in contrast to countries like France) as well as Spanish social attitudes, both historical and contemporary, about immigrants in general and Muslims in particular. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero has bolstered resources devoted to fighting Islamist terrorism, but has put more stress on assimilating Muslims into Spanish society, rather than viewing them as possible security threats.”


News and Resource Links:

New York Times: Spain

BBC Profile: Spain

State Department: Spain

CIA World Factbook: Spain


Ambassador Jorge Dezcaller

Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo became ambassador of Spain to the United States on August 21, 2008. Dezcallar is a law graduate with a degree in international studies from the Diplomatic School in Spain, and he joined the Foreign Service in 1971. He has served various postings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including secretary in the Consular and Commercial Representation in Warsaw (1972-74), secretary in the Consulate General in New York (1974-78), secretary and later counselor at the Spanish Embassy in Montevideo (1978-81), deputy general director of North Africa and the Near and Middle East (1983-85), general director of foreign policy for Africa and the Middle East (1985-93), general director of political affairs (1993-96), and special mission ambassador for foreign policy and common security (1996-97). Dezcallar served as Spain’s ambassador to Morocco (1997-2001), director of the Superior Center of Defense Information and later the National Center of Intelligence (2001-04), ambassador to the Holy Seat and the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta (2004-06), and general-secretary of the International Strategy Council of Repsol (2006-08).



The Ambassadors Roundtable Series is designed to provide Ambassadors to the United States and their key diplomatic staff with a forum to discuss current and future counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts on a regional or country-specific basis. In an effort to draw upon various insights and experiences, the Ambassadors Roundtable Series builds upon and institutionalizes efforts over the past two years to engage in a dialogue with members of the international community, policy makers, and practitioners.