News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week April 15th to April 21st 2004.
COSTA TERROR LINK
Three Madrid bombing suspects arrested in Coín
By David Eade and Oliver McIntyre
POLICE IN MÁLAGA AND COÍN HAVE ARRESTED THREE MOROCCAN NATIONALS BELIEVED TO BE LINKED TO THE 3/11 BOMB ATTACKS IN MADRID.
On Monday, Abdelghafour Abderrazzak and Mohamed El Barrouchi, were arrested in the Carretera de Cádiz area of Málaga. On the following day, police detained the third man in Coín. In addition to the arrests, investigators conducted a search at the home of one of the men, located on Calle Carnicería in the town of Monda.
When Costa del Sol News went to press, all three suspects had been transferred to police facilities in Madrid, but had yet to be interviewed by Judge Juan del Olmo, the high court justice in charge of the judicial investigation into the 3/11 attacks. The men are suspected of collaboration with the terrorists who carried out the Madrid bombings, but the level of alleged connection has not yet been established.
Meanwhile, investigators are looking into the Algeciras links of Serhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, known as ‘El Tunecino’, who has been named as the head of the terrorist cell that carried out the 3/11 bombings. Authorities believe he was amongst the six Islamic terrorists killed when they blew themselves up in Leganés, near Madrid, on Saturday, April 3.
Investigators say that El Tunecino had business connections in the port town of Algeciras and that he visited there on a number of occasions in the past two years. It is believed he travelled to the town to sell clothing to various businesses located in the old Río de la Miel district.
One of the businessmen that El Tunecino visited has been taken in for questioning. Investigators have stressed that they have no reason to believe that the man is involved in any terrorist activity but they wish to obtain from him as much background information on Serhane Ben Abdelmajid as they can.
Police have also not discounted the possibility that Algeciras may have been a temporary stop-off point for some members of the terrorist group. Many of those detained were from Tangiers or Tetuan, a short ferry ride from Algeciras, the main Spanish ferry destination from Morocco.
STRAITS’ TRAGIC DEATH TOLL
2,000 immigrants have died in the Straits since 1991
By David Eade
THE UNITED NATIONS HAS DESCRIBED AS ‘UNACCEPTABLE’” THE FIGURES PRODUCED BY ONE OF ITS OWN ORGANIZATIONS ON THE NUMBER OF IMMIGRANTS KILLED TRYING TO CROSS THE STRAITS OF GIBRALTAR TO SPAIN.
The special report was carried out for the Human Rights agency of the UN by its representative on Migrant Workers, Gabriela Rodríguez. The figures showed that in the last 12 years no less than 2,000 people have perished as they attempted to cross the Straits either in precarious boats or those overloaded with people.
The 22-page document was compiled after Sra Rodríguez visited both Spain and Morocco last year to study the reality of the immigration situation at first hand. She stated that the 2,000 death toll was “the most optimistic statistic” and only related to the deaths registered in the waters of Cádiz Province.
FIGURE DOUBLES TO 4,000
The report stated that the number of deaths in that period doubled to 4,000 when the number of bodies found on the Moroccan side of the Straits was also taken in to account.
Gabriela Rodríguez noted that in the period between January and September 2003 a total of 162 deaths were recorded on the Andalucía coast. She also included in her report the incident in October of last year when 37 immigrants died off Tarifa. Following that tragedy the Coastguard and Guardia Civil were heavily criticized for both their lack of co-ordination and equipment.
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior has informed the UN that the number of immigrants attempting to cross the Straits has dropped since the SIVE vigilance system has been introduced. However, Sra Rodríguez dismissed that argument stating that all that had happened was that the immigrants had been forced to take longer and more dangerous routes to reach Spain’s shores. She pointed out that now instead of heading for Cádiz they were landing on the beaches of Granada and Almería instead.
MAFIA GANGS TARGETED
The UN has no doubt that the trafficking in immigrants is being organized by mafia gangs. It has called on the Spanish government to work more closely with the countries from which the immigrants originate. In that regard Spain last year broke up around 700 immigration networks and arrested more than 2,000 people involved in human trafficking.
BOMB THREATS DISRUPT AIRPORTS
By Dave Jamieson and David Eade
Traffic approaching Málaga Airport was paralysed for a time last week after a bomb threat. At 12:30 p.m. last Tuesday, a newspaper office received a phone call which claimed that two explosive artefacts had been placed in the area of the airport, one at the nearby Renfe railway station and the other in the airport car park.
Emergency procedures were immediately set in motion as local police closed access roads to the airport, trains were diverted away from the station, and members of Tedax, part of the state security force, searched for anything suspicious. A number of air travellers were forced to walk with their luggage along the final stretch of road to the departure hall, while passengers on two trains which had already entered the airport stretch were stranded for a time after they were stopped from approaching the station. The all clear was given at 13.15 and the situation quickly returned to normal.
Suspicious packet closes Gib Airport
The discovery of a suspicious packet on Maundy Thursday caused the closure of Gibraltar Airport and the border between the British colony and Spain. The border was closed between 20.30 and 21.45 whilst the alarm was in place, traffic was halted and a flight to London was also delayed.
A Gibraltar government said the packet looked as if it had been merely left behind by somebody but given the high terrorist alert in place at present all possible precautions are being taken and all security checks carried out. The army were summoned to the scene and used a robot to explode the packet, which was found to contain newspapers. The explosion could be heard at the Spanish border and caused alarm amongst those waiting to cross into Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has been on heightened alert since the Madrid bombing on March 11. The security level on the Rock was raised to ‘Bikini Amber’ and armed police with dogs trained to sniff-out explosives have checked vehicles as they pass through the Customs area.
VANDALS DESTROY OVER 30 PUBLIC TELEPHONES
By David Eade
Marbella’s delegation for civic security has ordered increased vigilance in its various town centres to stamp out acts of vandalism. In the past week more than 30 public telephone booths have been destroyed in central zones. The councillor for civic security, Carlos Fernández, said that the group of youths believed to be to blame have been identified and police now intend to take control of the situation.
The zone between the Avenida Ricardo Soriano, Rafaela Aparicio, Emilio Cano and the Paseo Marítimo were the worst affected. The councillor said he had asked Telefónica to carry out urgent repairs on the damaged phones. He added that the telephone company already added in to the cost of calls from public telephones a percentage to cover damage from vandalism.
Residents in San Pedro have also asked for police action against youths who commit acts of vandalism whilst engaged in the ‘botellón’ street drinking groups especially around the Plazas Libertad, Tolox, Los Pajaritos and Lindavista.
One of the possible remedies being studied by Marbella Town Hall is to make the parents or guardians of the vandals responsible for paying for the damage they cause to public property. The current outbreak of vandalism, usually involving groups aged between 15 and 16 years-of-age, is also seen as justifying the planning introduction of a spy-camera network to monitor public areas.
EASTERN COSTA CRIME RISES BY 20 PER CENT
By Dave Jamieson
THE EASTERN COSTA DEL SOL IS REPORTED TO BE SUFFERING AN ALARMING RISE IN ITS CRIME RATE
Figures for 2003 just released by courts in the Province of Málaga show that the upward trend of recent years has continued, with an increase of a fifth in some areas. The statistics are based on the number of cases which come to court, rather than the number of incidents reported, but are said to reflect the overall crime rates in the areas surveyed.
Experts say that the reasons for the increase are complex and inter-related, but that the demographic explosion and urban expansion in towns such as Vélez-Málaga and Torrox have created virgin territory for organised crime. The official population of Vélez alone has increased by 13 per cent in the last ten years. Groups dedicated to drug trafficking, extortion, fraud and the sexual exploitation of women are reported to have moved into these areas and established bases and, as first do to so, have no fear of resistance from established gangs, as happens on the western Costas.
The situation is worsened by the number of vacancies left unfilled in police ranks. Torre del Mar, which has the only National Police base in the area, is reported to be 40 per cent under strength at present. Observers also point to the number of unreported crimes, the so-called “black statistics”, which further inflate the figures.
VÉLEZ TERROR ALERT…
Meanwhile, two separate incidents on the same day last week caused alarm, in light of the perceived increased threat of terrorist attacks in Spain. In the first, the authorities in Vélez-Málaga found themselves the midst of a huge operation after a break-in in a residential area. A resident of the urbanisation Las Adelfas de Benajarafe discovered two armed men of Arabian origin in his house, and called the police who, in the light of the March 11 attack in Madrid and subsequent events, launched a major terror alert. A helicopter was scrambled to assist dozens of armed Guardia Civil, national and local police officers who surrounded the urbanisation in an effort to find and detain the suspects. Alarmed residents were instructed to stay in their houses with all doors and windows closed while controls were set up on access roads and vehicles inspected. The major, three hour operation ended when two men were detained and taken for questioning at Torre del Mar police station.
…AND UNIDENTIFIED AIRCRAFT FLYING OVER MÁLAGA
In a separate incident on the same day, concerns were raised in the centre of Málaga when an unidentified light aircraft was spotted flying low over the headquarters of Correos. The plane was seen at about 19.40 passing dangerously close the building’s communications antennae, but when police contacted Málaga airport’s control tower, the aviation authorities claimed no knowledge of the craft and could not see it on their radar screens.
DEADLY SEMANA SANTA WEEKEND ON MÁLAGA ROADS
By Oliver McIntyre
The final weekend of Semana Santa was a deadly one on the roads of Málaga Province, where in one 24-hour period four young people were killed in four separate traffic accidents. Additional injury accidents occurred on the province’s roads, as well.
In Torremolinos, two young men, each in a separate car, drove off the A-7 at the same time in the early hours of Saturday; one of them, a 24-year-old, was killed and the other (25) was seriously injured. Police are investigating the possibility that the two were racing one another or involved in some other sort of interaction, due to the curious nature of the accident, in which the cars were apparently driving nearly parallel to one another but had no collision prior to leaving the roadway. Just a few hours later, a 14-year-old boy riding a motorbike on the C-3310 road in Málaga’s Puerto de la Torre neighbourhood was killed when he drove his scooter of the road. A third fatality occurred in Villanueva del Trabuco, where a 26-year-old driver was killed when his car ran off the left side of the road and rolled over. And in Fuengirola, a 21-year-old Russian man died when he was hit by a car on Friday night.
Other serious but non-fatal Semana Santa accidents included a four-car crash on the A-7 near Plaza Mayor in Guadalmar on Thursday, caused when one driver crossed onto the wrong side of the road and smashed into three oncoming vehicles. Three people were seriously injured in the accident. On Sunday a head-on collision on Alhaurín de la Torre’s Carretera de los Polígonos left all five occupants of the two vehicles injured, four of them requiring hospitalisation.
‘WORRYING SYMPTOMS’ FOR COSTA TOURISM
By Oliver McIntyre
AT LAST WEEK’S PRESENTATION OF ITS ‘TOURISM OBSERVATORY 2003’ REPORT, THE COSTA DEL SOL TOURISM BOARD INDICATED THAT, WHILE THE INDUSTRY HAS GROWTH POTENTIAL, THERE ARE ALREADY ‘WORRYING SYMPTOMS’ OF STAGNATION.
According to Tourism Board President Juan Fraile, it is estimated that 8.6 million tourists will visit the Costa in 2004, just .01 per cent more than last year. The 2003 hotel occupation rate of 63.26 per cent was a full 10 percentage points below the 1998 occupation rate (73.78 per cent), according to officials. And, says the Tourism Board report, tourists are spending less; the 4.14 billion euros spent by visitors last year was .4 per cent less than the year before, despite the fact that there were 1.3 per cent more tourists in 2003 than in 2002. Furthermore, in the last five years the average length of stay has dropped from 5.32 days to 4.5 days.
Despite the lukewarm data, Sr Fraile held out optimism, insisting that Costa tourism is not in a downward trend, and is just now poised to benefit from the easing of the economic problems that in 2003 affected some of the principal tourist-generating markets. Nevertheless, he admitted that the 3/11 attacks in Madrid could have a negative impact on this summer’s performance.
INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED
Sr Fraile warned that the central and regional governments must recognise that the Costa is at a critical crossroad, and that without the necessary investment could suffer a curtailment of growth and development in the tourism industry. In particular, he pointed to the need for infrastructure improvements.
The Tourism Board report indicated that, in general, Costa tourists go away satisfied, with 93 per cent calling their visit ‘positive’ and just 1.09 per cent saying it was ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’. About 73 per cent say they will come back and nearly 96 per cent say they would recommend it to family and friends. The areas most criticised by tourists are beach cleanliness, over-development, traffic, public transportation and infrastructure. They say the Costa’s beaches are of poorer quality than those of its chief tourism competitors – the Canary and Balearic Islands, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus.
RINCÓN CLEAN-UP CONTINUES
By Dave Jamieson
THE JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA HAS GIVEN 325,000 EUROS IN AID TO THE FAMILIES IN RINCÓN DE LA VICTORIA WHO WERE SERIOUSLY AFFECTED BY RECENT SEVERE WEATHER.
A further grant of 1.5 million euros has been received from the Junta for the repair of rural roads damaged by the heavy rainstorms on Sunday, March 28, when downpours of up to 250 litres per square metre were recorded. By Easter, 95 per cent of those requesting aid had received emergency funds of between 2,000 and 3,000 euros, according to Rincón’s mayor José Domínguez. He said that, while not resolving the problems totally, the help would permit life to return to some semblance of normality, and that repair work would continue 24 hours a day and on holidays.
PROMENADE TO BE MODIFIED
The Province of Málaga has responded to Rincón’s request for assistance by promising a swift redesign of drainage channels through the town and modifications to the paseo marítimo in an attempt to avoid a repetition of the flooding which devastated the town. The cost of repairing the damage which was caused to a thousand buildings, the town’s infrastructure and 700 vehicles, is estimated at 18 million euros. The water authority, CHS, last week began emergency repair works in three important drainage channels which had become blocked by debris washed down by the flood water, and is working on a project to clean and drain all such channels in the town. CHS has also offered Rincón Town Hall technical assistance to determine the causes of the disaster and find solutions. Work to clear the channels has been defined as urgent by the Ministry of the Environment and is costing four million euros to implement.
Further rains during the last week brought more misery to the area, with 45 litres per square metre recorded at Málaga airport and 46 litres in Torrox.
SPAIN AND PORTUGAL IN DING DONG OVER BELL
By David Eade
A COURT IN MADRID HAS ACCEPTED A CASE BROUGHT BY PORTUGAL AGAINST SPAIN IN WHICH THE STATE SEEKS TO RECLAIM THE SHIP’S BELL OF THE CARAVEL SANTA MARÍA THAT IN 1492 ANNOUNCED THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.
The disputed bell has spent a number of years in a safe in a bank in Algeciras. It was placed there because its discoverer, Italian Roberto Mazzara, was working in the area at the time. Now the bell is to be placed in a secure room at Spain’s Ministry of Education in Madrid until the outcome of the case has been determined.
The case in Madrid is due to become before a judge on April 30. The demand for its return made in the name of the Republic of Portugal is against the Spanish State, the company that intended to auction it and its Italian discoverer, stating that the bell was found in 1994 in Portuguese waters.
Sr Mazzara’s lawyer has called on the court to throw out the case arguing that it would open up the recovery of historical items between different countries in the European Community. He also claimed that the Portuguese authorities had been offered the bell by Sr Mazzara but had rejected it saying they believed it was not authentic.
The litigation over the bell started just over a year ago when the piece was to be placed for auction in Madrid at a starting price of one million euros. It was then that Portugal first laid claim to the bell and accused Sr Mazzara of robbery. The court suspended the auction but the civil action has only now been accepted on the basis that Portugal pays in to the court one million euros being the minimum value of the bell.
SEMANA SANTA STORMS SWAMP TORREMOLINOS
NEWS Staff Reporter
Right in the heart of Semana Santa, a Costa rainstorm last Friday dampened parades and ceremonies in many towns, hitting especially hard in Torremolinos, where some streets were closed to traffic due to flooding. Firefighters in the town were called out to several emergencies, mostly related to flooded basements and garages. The worst-affected zones were El Pinillo, Playa Mar, La Carihuela and Avenida Palma de Mallorca near Avenida Joan Miró, according to the Town Hall.
Meanwhile, the storm also shut down a stretch of the old N-340 near Calaceite in Torrox, where nearly two inches of rain fell, causing a rockslide that blocked part of the road. Guardia Civil agents closed the road to traffic in both directions and created a detour to take drivers via an alternate route to the motorway. The road was reopened on Tuesday.
Inspectors uncover ‘clandestine kitchens’
NEWS Staff Reporter
Fish inspectors from the Junta de Andalucía have discovered a new strategy used by restaurants that serve illegal undersize fish to preferred customers upon special order. According to the chief of the Junta inspectors, in order to avoid detection, some establishments are using offsite ‘clandestine kitchens’, often located in a flat above the restaurant, to prepare the illicit dishes. The Junta says it has already acted against some such operations.
The chief inspector says that all irregular kitchens identified by inspectors will be reported to the Health Department, which will take the appropriate actions against the restaurants, as such kitchens do not comply with health codes and other food-service regulations. Restaurants preparing illegal fish can face fines of up to 3,000 euros.
In recent months, inspectors have seized a total of 450 kilos of undersize fish at 11 restaurants in Málaga, Torre del Mar and Benalmádena. The Junta inspectors say that, in addition to the environmental reasons for banning the capture, sale and consumption of undersize fish, eating them can be a health risk because they are sometimes preserved in substances like boric acid or formaldehyde, the latter being a known carcinogen. Inspectors say they are currently on the hunt for a man known as ‘El Muñeco’, who is believed to supply undersize fish to numerous Torre del Mar restaurants.