Dud, decoy or blown?

What happened in Barcelona

The New York Times has an interesting account on the arrest of 14 suspected jihadis in Barcelona. It turns out that the arrests were prompted by signals from a double-agent that the French had inside the al-Qaeda related outfit planning attacks in several European cities. When Spanish security forces apprehended the suspects, they found far too little physical evidence to have a watertight case.

Of those still in custody, all are either Pakistani or of Pakistani origin, except for one Indian citizen. In questioning by prosecutors, all have denied being part of a terrorist conspiracy, the Spanish authorities said.

But Spanish law enforcement officials were clearly disappointed. There was no hard evidence of a bomb factory, no viable explosive devices or even enough explosive material to assemble bombs.

Investigators are struggling to understand the gap between the informant’s version of events and the physical evidence they found.

The informant apparently had seen much more bomb-making material than was seized by the Spanish authorities, according to a Western official with direct knowledge of the case. The extra material had disappeared, apparently with one of the suspects who fled, the official added. [NYT]

There’s too much there to suggest that this was a hoax, and too little to conclude that an attack was imminent. Unless one of the suspects managed to give the Spanish authorities the slip carrying the rest of the explosives with him, it’s possible that this was a decoy operation. By whom?

And then, it could well be that the would-be terrorists were tipped off. They were said to be making phone calls on the day before the cops moved in.