Dismantling the Syrian clan linked to the jihad that pulled the strings of Islam in Spain

Reportage Alejandro Requeijo

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Lhe scene of the reunion took place in a hall of Terminal 1 in Barajas. A group of 14 people anxiously awaited the arrival of the Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul. Inside it was a young man who had left behind ten years of confinement in Syrian prisons for terrorism. When he got off the plane, Humman was finally able to hug his brothers, his father, Fares, and his uncle Riay Tatary, the historic representative to the State of the Muslim community in Spain. It was February 7, 2018, and the Kutayni clan celebrated that they were united again.

Humman’s biography summarizes the history of his lineage. This newspaper will publish in the coming days a series of reports on the Kutayni, who have spent several generations with one foot in Madrid and the other in Syria, where they come from. Its visible face shows a deeply rooted family with several of its members born in Spain, studies in good universities, relevant positions in religious institutions and a well-off situation thanks to a conglomerate of companies. The hidden side hides 20 years dedicated to consolidating an organized, solid and powerful structure from which to hatch plans for expansion and collaboration with Al Qaeda.

The Syrian secret services informed Spain that Manaf Mohamed Tajuddin Kutayni is the leader of a jihadist faction affiliated with Al Qaeda

This is what the State security forces and bodies believe, which have been tracking this family for years. A huge amount of police wiretaps, surveillance and reports to which El Confidencial has had access trace its links with jihadist terrorism, specifically the financing of groups related to the network founded by Bin Laden in which the clan also has a presence. Added to this is secular opposition to the Assad family, from the Shiite branch, which has ruled Syria with an iron fist for half a century.

Humman Kutayni was arrested for an attack in Damascus on 27 September 2008. At 8:45 am, a car loaded with 200 kilos of explosives was detonated in the Sidi Qada district, near a Shiite mosque. The result of the worst attack in the Syrian capital in three decades was 17 dead, all of them civilians, and another 14 wounded. The authorities blamed the action on radical Islamists. In his statement to the authorities of the Bashar al Assad regime, another of the detainees confessed the name of one of his collaborators: Manaf Kutayni.

As reported by the Syrian secret services to Spanish investigators, Manaf Mohamed Tajuddin Kutayni is the leader of a jihadist faction affiliated with Al Qaeda established in Maarat An-Numan, in the province of Idlib. Its location between Damascus and Aleppo made the city a strategic point in the Syrian civil war and hosted bloody clashes between Al Assad’s troops and the rebels made up of an amalgam of small groups, including jihadists.

Reports on Manaf place him in command posts of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This group was considered the most violent within the rebel camp and would gain international fame under the name Al Nusra Front for being the brand that Al Qaeda chose to be present in the Syrian hornet’s nest. The refusal of another radical leader named Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi to bow to Al Nusra’s discipline led him to break with Al Qaeda and lead a new group called the Islamic State on his own. Over the years, this movement and the self-proclamation of the caliphate would prove key to the liberation of Humman Kutayni.

The Al Nusra Front was renamed Hayat Tharir Al Sham as a result of the union of several factions and the investigations place Manaf Kutayni under its discipline in Idlib. His relatives in Spain sent money to that place. This alleged terrorist has several children killed in combat, always according to the same information. Their names are Taj and Safi, who died in 2012 and 2017, respectively. When Assad’s troops killed the first, his cousins ​​in Spain posted messages of condolence on their social media. The other is believed to have been killed in a suicide bombing in Homs.

Manaf is the brother of Fares, the proud father who hugged his son at the Barajas airport after a decade without seeing each other. He is the patriarch of the clan and a benchmark of the Spanish Islamic community. His sphere of influence is one of the most important religious centers in the country, the Central Mosque of Madrid, of which he was appointed treasurer. The economic resources that can be raised are important and the risk of diversion is high, according to experts in the fight against terrorism. In the vicinity of that mosque, the Kutayni created an NGO under the pretext of helping the Syrian people and sending humanitarian aid.

They created it on May 14, 2011, two months after the outbreak of war, and Fares put two of his sons Ammar and Bilal in charge. The first traveled in February 2018 with his sister Rim and mother Sabah to Istanbul to pick up his brother who had just been released from prison. The trip was managed by Spain, according to the reports consulted by this newspaper. Another link of the family with jihadism is that Ammar Kutayni’s phone number appeared in the phone book of Deniz Ibrayam Redzheb, condemned by the Supreme Court for his involvement in a network that captured for Al Qaeda in the so-called Al Andalus Brigade.

However, according to the investigation, the brother most implicated in the liberation of Humman was Hummar, born in Madrid in 1982. The police thesis is that the family paid money to the Syrian Government to obtain the liberation by virtue of a conjunctural alliance that arose from the common opposition to the Islamic State. Uncle Manaf’s contacts would have been key to closing the deal, but it was Hummar who traveled to Turkey to deliver at least one payment to an individual identified as Mohamed Bachir, also linked to the family clan.

From Moncloa to Zarzuela, Tatary’s contacts were unlimited. Syrian like his relatives, in his environment they called him Abu Islam (Father of Islam)

All these investigations led in June 2019 to the Warmor operation of the General Information Commission of the National Police in which ten people were arrested and 14 investigated, including several members of the Kutayni clan. The National Court decreed the entry into prison for seven detainees. They were accused of belonging to a criminal organization, collaboration and financing of terrorism, money laundering, tax fraud, document falsification and favoring illegal immigration. Thus ended years of activities allegedly outside the law.

The president of the Islamic Community of Spain, Riay Tatary – present in that room at the Barajas airport – issued a statement after the arrests. He claimed that they had caused him deep pain as some of those involved were closely linked to him. It also claimed the right to the presumption of innocence. He did not specify what kind of ties were those that united them to the clan, but his wife was the sister of Sabah Asse, wife of Fares Kutayni. The patriarch of the clan was his brother-in-law.

Tatary has always been the visible face and the interlocutor with politicians, mayors, presidents of the Government or with the Zarzuela on behalf of the Muslim community in Spain since it was established as such 40 years ago. Syrian like his relatives, in his environment they called him Abu Islam (Father of Islam). His contacts were unlimited as president of the Islamic Community of Spain, the representative body of Muslims before the State that opened all doors to him. This institution also has a fundamental weight when it comes to controlling the messages that are disseminated in mosques in a country with two million Muslims.

Tatary’s death provoked messages of condolences from both the Government and the Royal House. He was a celebrated figure in the religious community since the 1980s. With the Law of Religious Freedom, the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE) and the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI) were founded. The two came together to form the CIE, something like the Islamic equivalent of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Since then, UCIDE and FEERI have been facing each other within that institution. But in all disputes the majority current of Tatary always prevailed.

Although in public he always showed a forceful rejection of terrorism and good relations with Jewish and Christian leaders, the figure of Tatary was always shrouded in mystery. This is what the police sources consulted admit. After so many years at the helm, his family’s activities would hardly escape his knowledge, warn sources from the Muslim community. Tatary died of Covid at the La Paz Hospital in Madrid at the age of 72. The Spanish information services attended his replacement with concern, aware that the successor would come out of their narrowest circle of collaborators.

In July 2020, Ayman Adlbi was elected with 84 percent of the votes in an assembly held in the Tetouan Mosque. Just a few days earlier, he had also been unanimously appointed as Tatary’s successor as head of the majority UCIDE, whose headquarters are also located in the Madrid mosque. However, the long shadow of the Kutayni in the official religious community did not end there. Less than a year later, the National Police returned to focus on the CIE with the arrest of the new president in a phase of Operation Warmor.

Ayman Adlbi also issued a statement to explain himself. He clarified that the police barely kept him in custody for a few hours and showed his discomfort at so many paraphernalia. The issue, he said, “could have been resolved with an interview” at the mosque or the police station. In the same operation, another person linked to the UCIDE was arrested. Like the rest of the plot, he was accused of sending amounts of money to Syria to finance terrorist factions. From the Spanish Islamic Commission (CIE) they came out in defense of this second implicated.

They describe him as “a person very loved by all who know the truth” and then they outlined an erratic explanation that generates more unknowns than he tried to clear up: “We fully trust in his innocence and acting in good faith in any collection in which there is intervened, without any responsibility for destinations or final deviations, if there were any within the country of destination ”.

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