BARCELONA – A security guard with a large personal collection of firearms was arrested by police in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia for allegedly expressing his intention to murder Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in retaliation for the Socialist Party government’s plans to exhume the remains of former right-wing military dictator Francisco Franco from a vast mausoleum where they are interred near Madrid, officials said on Thursday.
Regional Catalan police detained the suspect, 63-year-old Manuel Murillo Sanchez, in the city of Terrassa, roughly 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Barcelona, after he shared his plan to kill the prime minister in a WhatsApp chat group in what has been interpreted as a supposed act of vengeance for the government’s policy to remove Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, a vast tomb and monastery located in the mountainous countryside north of the capital.
“Arrested a man in Terrassa who wanted to kill the head of the Spanish government Pedro Sanchez,” the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s regional police force, said on Twitter. “The detained, who had an arsenal of weapons at home, is in prison.”
According to online Spanish newspaper Publico, which broke the news as an exclusive, the suspect, who was arrested in September, was an accomplished member of his local shooting club and used the social media app to ask for help to carry out his plot to kill Sanchez.
Police launched raids on his property when a fellow member of the WhatsApp group reported their concerns about the detainee’s apparently earnest plans to carry out an attack on the PM.
Agents discovered 16 small and large firearms, including a CETME assault rifle, a Czech Skorpion submachine gun and four high-precision rifles capable of hitting a target from over a kilometer away, Publico said.
The regional president of Andalusia, Susana Diaz, an influential figure in the Spanish Socialist Party, blamed the incidents on an increase in hate-fueled divisive politics in Spain.
“We should all take heed and abandon this politics of tension and moral degradation,” she told reporters ahead of a committee hearing. “And let this country breathe, and for conviviality to be the guiding instrument in everyday politics, economy and social life because Spain doesn’t deserve this sort of thing.”
Sanchez’s Socialist Party government was pushing ahead with plans to exhume the remains of Franco (1892-1975) from the vast state and church-funded mausoleum, which remains a divisive object 40 years on from Spain’s transition from brutal military dictatorship to democracy.
Spain’s government said the PM’s security was never at risk, adding that death threats were a constant.