Off-duty Guardia Civil officers were forced to fire three warning shots into the air after being assaulted by a group of 40 people, in another incident that has again raised concerns about organised crime in the Campo de Gibraltar.
Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain’s Minister for the Interior, described the incident as “an act of vandalism” that was not related to drug trafficking in the area.
But the Asociación Unificada de Guardia Civiles [AUGC] rejected that position and said the events at the weekend underscored the risks faced daily by law enforcement agents working in the Campo.
The nine officers who were assaulted belonged to the Grupos de Acción Rápida, the rapid response unit of the Guardia Civil recently deployed to the area as part of a crackdown on smuggling networks.
The officers were in plain clothes when they were surrounded by a group of around 40 people in El Rinconcillo, at the northwest corner of the Bay of Gibraltar on the outskirts of Algeciras.
The officers were attacked with stone, bottles and sticks and were forced to take action to defend themselves, including firing three shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
“This is yet another episode in the rising violence against law enforcement agencies in the Campo de Gibraltar,” the AUGC said, adding it underlined “the growing insecurity” in the area.
“Every week Guardia Civil, police and municipal police officers are attacked without any reaction from the [central] government.”
“How many more incidents of this nature have to occur before they cease to be treated as isolated occurrences and forceful measures are put in place to tackle the situation?”
According to the AUGC, Saturday’s incident is the result of the sense of impunity with which organised gangs operate in the Campo.
It said there are up to 30 organised groups in the Campo helped by more than 3,000 collaborators.
“The shortage of law enforcement officers is patently clear,” the AUGC said, adding that at least another 300 officers were needed.
But yesterday, Mr Zoido dismissed any link between drug trafficking and the incident in El Rinconcillo, which he put down to “an act of vandalism”.
He said the officers had been set upon by a group who were celebrating a communion and were unaware the men belonged to the Guardia Civil.
It is not clear what sparked the affray but two people, a man and a woman, have already been arrested in connection to the incident, while a further 10 have been identified.
Of those, the minister said, “only two have a criminal record for previous drug trafficking offences”.
Irrespective of the motives for the attack, Mr Zoido insisted, “there will be no impunity” for those involved.
Mr Zoido said Spain’s law enforcement agencies were working hard to tackle organised crime in the Campo but that this was “a complex problem” that required a multi-agency approach.
That includes not just a police response, but a greater focus too on education and jobs in a region struggling with 40% unemployment.
“Such high levels of unemployment and school absenteeism cannot be allowed,” he said.
On that point at least, the minister and the AUGC were in agreement.
The AUGC has long been calling for a national strategy to tackle drug crime in the Campo and beyond.
It also wants a tougher response to those who provide indirect support to criminal networks.
“The AUGC is clear that in the current situation we must demand more, because the fight against organised networks is not solved only by investigating the criminal offences we can see,” the AUGC said.
“It must include too investigation too of all the activities used to conceal the proceeds of the principal illicit business.”