In front of the town hall which hoisted the Catalan independence flag and a historic monastery whose bells ring every quarter of an hour, it is the song of tears: a group of about fifty Muslims from the locality of Ripoll - north of the region – pour out and express themselves with emotion. “Not in our name”, they shout vigorously. Understand: we condemn the August 17 killings. Among them, women talk between tears, hug each other sobbing. On Saturday, at the end of the afternoon, they left the modest mosque in the rue Progrés and, in an improvised way, converged on the center to show their repulsion against the attack. Ripoll is the key location in the Barcelona tragedy which left 14 dead and around 12 injured. Of the 8 terrorists – now killed, arrested or on the run – 11 lived in this town of 000 inhabitants, mostly in favor of independence, where some 500 Moroccans live together. Most arrived in Catalonia at a very young age, shortly after birth. Others were born there.

“I cannot believe for a second that these young people could have organized such a massacre, enrages Wafa Marsi, 30, a veiled woman with green eyes. I knew them all, from childhood. They were good, cheerful and responsible. Someone brainwashed them, there is no other explanation." Beside her, dressed in a black djellaba, the mother of the Oukabir brothers, Moussa (17 years old, died during the shooting in Cambrils) and Driss, detained, expresses her helplessness and her consternation in Arabic. A little apart, a group of Moroccan men look overwhelmed. "He's a bastard, he's a bastard", they repeat in unison. For them, no doubt, the person responsible for this jihadist attack is none other than the imam of Ripoll, Abdelbaki Es Satty, 45, a radical Salafist. “He was very closed, serious, I never liked him, says Munir Laghmiri, a worker in a plastics factory. He hid his game well. I can assure you that it was not in the mosque that he fanaticized them, but elsewhere.


How is it possible that, in such an entrenched village in northern Catalonia, young Moroccans, described as "friendly and well-integrated", could have suddenly become jihadists willing to massacre hundreds of people in Barcelona or Cambrils? “It is all the more incomprehensible since most of them, in particular the Hachemi and Aalaa brothers, had stable jobs, knew almost nothing about Islam and frequented Spaniards, commented Hannan, a very moved Moroccan woman who took the initiative of the demonstration in front of the town hall. I would have put my hand in the fire for them.” However, when the conversations get longer and the tongues loosen, the story diverges. Aina, 17, a close friend of Houssaine Abouyaaqoub and Moussa Oukabir – killed in Cambrils – affirms that in the past three months something had changed within this group of friends: longer clothes, a more serious attitude, a certain coldness and “frequent trips to Barcelona or Vic”.

At the origin of this “mutation”: Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty. Arriving in Ripoll in 2015, this Moroccan first took charge of what Muslims in the city call the “little mosque”. A year later, in April, he opened a second center of worship, the "great mosque", which accommodated only around fifty worshipers. “I stopped going to prayers, says Hassan, 39. His speech was moderate, but he was weird, he felt like he was constantly plotting, he was dividing the community. In June, Es Satty announced that he was stepping down. Reason given: he must go to Morocco for three months to visit relatives. In general, it is confirmed, an imam does not take more than three consecutive weeks of leave. Then, the testimonies diverge. Some claim that he never set foot on Ripoll again, others that he returned there occasionally and furtively.

Hashish trafficking

The fate of the imam is today at the heart of the police investigation. Nadir – a discreet forty-year-old who speaks only Arabic – who for two years had shared a small apartment with him on the sixth floor of a building near the town hall, maintains that on Tuesday, two days before the attack on the Ramblas of Barcelona, ​​he took leave of him. By telling him that he was going to Morocco. The Catalan police rather believe that Es Satty went to Alcanar, participated in the manufacture of explosives (butane, propane and TAPT, dubbed "the mother of Satan", used by the Islamic State) and would have perished on the spot on Wednesday, following a bad manipulation. This Saturday around noon, the Mossos d'Esquadra carried out a three-hour search of the imam's apartment, in particular to get their hands on clues allowing DNA tests to be carried out, and to confirm the identity of the Alcanar corpse.

Investigators are convinced that, from his installation in 2015 in Ripoll, the imam prepared the attacks he wanted him to kill hundreds of people in Catalonia. “He did things in an orderly fashion, confides a Moroccan father. I think he took time to select those who were going to commit the crimes. Above all, he chose young people, brothers, from poor parents, often illiterate and who exercised no control over their sons." In fact, from May and June, when those who would become terrorists began to change their attitude, they have a great deal of freedom. According to several witnesses, they often circulate in Vic, Barcelona or elsewhere, handle more money, take out insurance. At this stage, they have been fanaticized by social networks and by the imam – and perhaps also by accomplices – and are ready to carry out attacks against “infidels”. Today remains for the Catalan police to further investigate Abdelbaki Es Satty. According to some sources, the man who served four years in prison between 2010 and 2015 for hashish trafficking is not a novice Islamist. According to the website Okay Diary, in the mid-2000s, the imam joined an Islamist cell in Vilanova i la Geltrù – on the Catalan coast – which was dedicated to recruiting future jihadists among uprooted Muslim youth. That he would have sent to suicide in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

François Musseau Special Envoy to Ripoll