There were calls for tougher action against drug trafficking gangs in La Linea yesterday after 20 masked men stormed the city’s hospital to free a suspected smuggler who was being treated for injuries.
The men entered the hospital shouting and acting aggressively, before removing the suspect, who was still in handcuffs, from the custody of two police officers who had taken him to receive medical care.
No one was hurt in the incident, which has once again put a spotlight on organised crime in the Campo de Gibraltar.
And yesterday, two Guardia Civil officers were injured after their vehicle was rammed head-to-head by a suspected trafficker, in an incident that one officer described as “something out of an episode of Narcos”.
As medical staff held an impromptu protest outside La Linea’s hospital yesterday [pictured above], law enforcement spokesmen warned of the challenges faced by officers working in the Campo de Gibraltar.
“There’s clearly a lack of security in La Linea and it’s down to the fact that we don’t have sufficient personnel or resources to tackle drug traffickers,” said Javier Lopez, spokesman for Spanish police union SUP, speaking to reporters outside the hospital.
“The increasingly high profile drug trafficking that we have in this area lies at the root of the problem.”
“We are seeing an average of 10 launches come in daily loaded with 1,000 or 2,000 kilos of drugs.”
“All we are asking is for the government to make available the necessary resources to face up to this scourge which is invading us more and more.”
“This is a city in the hands of delinquents and we can’t allow that.”
The hospital incident started at a routine roadside checkpoint when police officers asked a motorbike ride and his pillion passenger to stop.
As the passenger alighted, the man sped off and was chased by police before finally falling off the bike, injuring himself in the process.
Police identified the rider as a man allegedly involved in drug trafficking and who was wanted by the authorities.
He was arrested, handcuffed and taken to La Linea’s hospital for treatment.
While he waited to be seen by doctors – there is no fast-track process for detainees requiring medical assistance – the group of masked men entered the building and dragged him out.
The two officers guarding the suspect did not draw their firearms for fear of escalating the incident, but nonetheless managed to arrest one of the masked men.
The rest, including the suspect in handcuffs, managed to flee the scene.
Yesterday they still remained at large as this edition went to press, despite a major police manhunt including close checks on all vehicles leaving Spain to enter into Gibraltar.
A spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police said officers here were aware of the incident although they had not received any formal notification from Spanish authorities.
The RGP and other local law enforcement agencies have nonetheless stepped up surveillance of key points including the border should any of those involved in the incident – many of whom have already been identified, according to Spanish reports – try to slip into Gibraltar.
At a press conference in La Linea yesterday, Agustin Muñoz, the central government’s representative in Cádiz, speaking to reporters alongside La Linea mayor Juan Franco, praised the measured response from the two officers present during the hospital incident.
He described the incident as “alarming” and said there was a need to equip the hospital with specific protocols to ensure prisoners were treated faster and away from main public areas.
He also vowed to ensure the central and regional administrations engaged full with La Linea to tackle the problem of organised crime and its underlying social causes.
Sr Franco also acknowledged the work of Spanish law enforcement agencies but said more needed to be done, “without this turning into a political attack”.
He said La Linea was dealing with organised gangs that had massive resources at their disposal, requiring a concerted and coordinated effort from all administrations.
“I’m grateful for the effort that has been made so far, but this is a pretty powerful enemy and we’ll have to think about adopting other measures,” he said.
In Seville, Susana Diaz, the president of the Junta de Andalucia, said additional police resources were “urgently” needed in the Campo de Gibraltar.
“We’ve said on numerous occasions that the lack of security in the Campo is not acceptable,” she said.
“How can we explain that drug traffickers are acting with impunity in the Campo de Gibraltar and that right now, there is no reinforcement for law enforcement agencies in the area?”
“The call for additional police and Guardia Civil officers in the Campo de Gibraltar is urgent and very necessary.”
But Spain’s Minister for the Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido, wrote to Mrs Diaz rebutting her claims and insisting that the hospital breakout was “an isolated incident”.
He said organised crime networks “…know perfectly well that they are facing the Government and the rule of law and that they will pay for the crimes they commit.”
Mr Zoido acknowledged, however, that gangs operating in this area were increasingly sophisticated.
“The drug trafficking gangs operating in the Campo de Gibraltar are increasingly specialised, have better resources and are more aggressive and dangerous, and that is why we are giving more and better resources to the Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil so that they can work more efficiently and safely,” he said.
Back in La Linea Sr Lopez, the police union spokesman, said that while the hospital incident had drawn ample media attention, law enforcement officers were faced with such scenes on a daily basis.
“We have confrontations with them every day, it’s just that this latest one took place in a hospital in front of witnesses and has drawn more media attention,” he said.
“They don’t make it easy for us whenever we intervene in a drug operation.”