Spanish PM plays down post-attack criticism of authorities

Two boys stand to pray with other Muslim worshipers for the victims of the Barcelona van attacks at the main mosque in Madrid, Spain, Friday Aug. 25, 2017. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Aug. 17-18 in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 15 dead and more than 120 injured. Eight suspects are dead and four more under investigation, two of them in jail. (AP Photo/Paul White)
A man cries while people gather to pray for the victims of the Barcelona van attacks at the main mosque in Madrid, Spain, Friday Aug. 25, 2017. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Aug. 17-18 in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 15 dead and more than 120 injured. Eight suspects are dead and four more under investigation, two of them in jail. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Muslim worshipers pray for the victims of the Barcelona van attacks at the main mosque in Madrid, Spain, Friday Aug. 25, 2017. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Aug. 17-18 in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 15 dead and more than 120 injured. Eight suspects are dead and four more under investigation, two of them in jail. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Politicians and officials hold a minute of silence to commemorate the recent attacks that left many killed and wounded at the Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont applauds prior of a minute of silence to commemorate the recent attack sthat left many killed and wounded at the Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID — Spain's prime minister on Friday dismissed criticism about the lack of coordination between Spanish national authorities and those in the widely self-governed Catalonia region during the attacks by an Islamic extremist cell that killed 15 people last week.

The probe into the Aug. 17-18 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils has suggested that the alleged cell leader's ties to other jihadists and his criminal record for drug trafficking may have been missed because Catalan regional police didn't have information that was in the hands of central authorities.

A judge had granted permission for police investigators to tap Abdelbaki Es Satty's mobile phone line in a 2005 investigation into an Al-Qaeda cell in northeastern Spain, newspaper ABC reported Friday, publishing leaked court documents, but the conversations didn't provide enough evidence to indict him.

Other concerns have been raised by police officers' unions, who have denounced a decision by pro-independence regional politicians to show a "self-sufficient" Catalonia and exclude other experts in the initial stages of the investigation into the attacks.

The Catalan government has denied the accusations.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday the investigation into the attacks will be coordinated from now on by the Interior Ministry's organized crime and terrorism intelligence center, CITCO, after representatives of intelligence agencies and police forces met Thursday with judicial authorities at the country's National Court, which handles terrorism cases.

"From the initial stages, the coordination has been fluid and constant, both at the political decision level and at the technical level of police responsibilities," Rajoy told reporters.

Spain will also propose new measures to improve European Union coordination in fighting terrorism during a summit in Paris next week with leaders from Germany, Italy and France, Rajoy said. He didn't elaborate.

The Islamic State group has claimed the attacks, Spain's deadliest in more than one decade, which also left over 120 people wounded. Eight suspects are dead — including Es Satty, the imam believed to have recruited the other alleged members of the cell. Four more are under investigation, two of them in jail.

"We have suffered strikes like these in our recent history and some even more terrible," said Rajoy adding that "our democracy has defeated decades of ETA's terrorism and that of jihadists."

ETA is a militant group that sought independence for its Basque homeland through violent strikes that killed 829 people until it declared a permanent cease-fire in 2011.

But in the past decade and a half, Islamic extremism has slowly replaced the Basque insurgency as the focus of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, especially after the 2004 attack by al-Qaida inspired bombers who killed 191 people in coordinated assaults on Madrid's commuter trains.

Since then, the arrest of nearly 800 people for suspected links to extremism in 246 operations against jihadism has prevented new strikes, Rajoy said Friday.

He also stressed that political unity, police coordination and international cooperation are "the most important tools to defeat terrorists." He said his conservative government is ready to change laws "in order to fight the new forms of jihadist terrorism."

Rajoy is joining King Felipe VI and national and regional politicians for a massive rally Saturday evening in Barcelona to reject violence. The march will be led by the taxi drivers, emergency workers and ordinary people who helped victims in the initial moments after the attack.

The rally will follow the "No Tinc Por" slogan, which means "I'm not afraid" in the Catalan language.

Mayor Ada Colau urged citizens to take part until "the streets of Barcelona are overflowing with people."

Also Friday, Catalan lawmakers unanimously condemned the vehicle attacks by holding a minute of silence at the regional parliament. At the main mosque in Madrid, worshippers prayed for the victims of the attacks.

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