MADRID (AP) — Spanish police say the man suspected of plotting an ISIS-inspired attack in Colombia appeared on their radar for hate-filled messages online toward the United States, a country where he had lived and was allegedly trying to get to.
A Colombian judge jailed Raul Gutierrez last week on terrorism and conspiracy charges after the 45-year-old Cuban man had allegedly discussed his plans to attack a cafeteria in central Bogota popular with U.S. diplomats using homemade explosives.
On Telegram, an app for mobile and desktop computers that encrypts online exchanges, Gutierrez said that he would commit a suicide attack in the name of God and the Islamic state, police said.
The attack was initially planned for March 6 but was later rescheduled for March 13, according to two Spanish agents who identified the alleged plot.
In order to carry out the plan, Gutierrez had sought work as a dishwasher in a coffee shop located in Bogota’s “pink district,” they said.
Gutierrez was arrested on March 12 by the Colombian police. The FBI was also part of the joint operation that, according to Spain’s police, “successfully neutralized a real and imminent threat against civilians.”
The investigators, who requested anonymity for security reasons, monitor online extremist activities in the general information office of the Spanish National Police.
They told The Associated Press that Gutierrez’s animosity for the U.S. caught their attention during an intercepted conversation with other suspects.
“We tried to see where the seeds of that hate where rooted and to discover if those disparaging remarks disguised any other ideology,” one of the investigators told the AP. “That’s when we came across his radicalization in an extreme form of Islam.”
In over one month of communications, Gutierrez revealed himself as “highly radicalized,” one of the agents said, adding that he allegedly adopted clothing and styles similar to militants in radical groups. Police said that he also added the word “jihadist” to his social media handle.
Because the case is open and more arrests could be in the pipeline, the investigators said they couldn’t confirm additional reports. But they suspected that Gutierrez’s connections could extend all the way to territories in the Middle East controlled by the so-called Islamic State.
At a hearing last week in the western Colombian city of Pereira, the suspect said he had lived in the U.S. but is now fighting against American dominance in the “new world order” because “they are thieves and conquerors and killers.”
Gutierrez, who had been expelled from Colombia twice before and was allegedly attempting to return to the U.S., also told reporters that despite his arrest the “seed has been planted.”
“He meant that he might not be free to carry out an attack but others are,” one of the Spanish investigators said. “That’s why we need to be vigilant.”