Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp ‘kill squad’

Spanish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into messages posted in a WhatsApp group of retired military officers that denounced Spain's left-wing government and discussed shooting political adversaries.

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp 'kill squad'

The group was made up of high-ranking retired members of the air force with some of the messages leaked in December to the Infolibre news website, sparking public outrage.

The messages focused on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists rule alongside the hard-left Podemos in Spain’s first coalition government since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

“I don’t want these scoundrels to lose the elections. No. I want them and all of their offspring to die,” wrote one.

“For them to die, they must be shot and 26 million bullets are needed,” wrote another, referring to the number of people who cast their ballots in favour.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in mid-December after finding the statements were “totally contrary to the constitutional order with veiled references to a military coup”.

But they dropped the probe after concluding the content of the chat did not constitute a hate crime by virtue of the fact it was a private communication.

“Its members ‘freely’ expressed their opinions to the others ‘being confident they were among friends’ without the desire to share the views elsewhere,” the Madrid prosecutors office said.

The remarks constituted “harsh” criticism that fell “within the framework of freedom of expression and opinion,” it said.

The decision is likely to inflame protests that erupted in mid-February over the jailing of a Spanish rapper for tweets found to be glorifying terrorism, a case that has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Spain.

According to Infolibre, some of the chat group also signed a letter by more than 70 former officers blaming the Sanchez government for the “breakdown of national unity” that was sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI in November.

Such remarks echo criticism voiced by Spain’s rightwing and far-right opposition that has denounced the government for courting separatist parties in order to push legislation through parliament where it only holds a minority.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


EXPLAINED: Why is everyone talking about Denmark’s PM as the next Nato chief?

With Denmark's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, set to visit the US next week to visit Joe Biden, rumours are flying of her being appointed the next Secretary General of Nato. What's behind the gossip and does it make any sense?

EXPLAINED: Why is everyone talking about Denmark's PM as the next Nato chief?

Why is the post up for grabs? 

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s Norwegian secretary-general, retires at the end of September after nine years in the post and there’s a growing expectation that his replacement will be announced at Nato’s coming annual summit in Vilnius in July. That means that the positioning from candidates for the role is well-advanced. 

Why is Mette Frederiksen seen as a candidate? 

Frederiksen is well-regarded, with several diplomats telling the Politico website that she was “a serious candidate” for the role. She is tough-minded and decisive, a good speaker and a heavyweight position. She is also well into her second term as Denmark’s leader, meaning she might be ready to move on to the next stage of her career. 

Norway’s VG newspaper in April cited two anonymous sources as saying that Frederiksen was among the top candidates for the role.

In her favour, the newspaper said that she had experience of being a Prime Minister, something the UK’s defence minister, Ben Wallace, lacks. She is also a woman, a plus for an organisation that has since 1957 had an unbroken succession of 16 male leaders. She is also seen as having some backing from the US, the alliance’s leading member. 

The last two Nato secretary generals have come from the Nordic countries, with Stoltenberg preceded by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was prime minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009 before taking the role. 

On the one hand, this reflects the appeal of a region whose countries are small enough not to have their own powerful agenda, and where the political culture is one of low-key competency. 

On the other, picking three Nordic leaders in a row might be a bit much, particularly for the newer Nato members from Central and Eastern Europe who are today very much in the spotlight following the invasion of Ukraine. 

What do other leaders say about Frederiksen as a candidate? 

Norway’s Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, heaped praise on Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, when asked to assess her chances as Nato’s next Secretary General on Tuesday, but refused to be drawn on whether she was in the running. 

“She is one of Europe’s most talented prime ministers. One of those I know best and with whom I have the closest contact. I have only good things to say about her,” he said, speaking at a joint press conference with outgoing Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “But we will discuss who will lead Nato another time.” 

Who are the other candidates? 

Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, is perhaps the lead candidate, alongside Ingrida Simonyté, Prime Minister of Lithuania, both of which would tick both the “first woman” and “first secretary general from Eastern Europe” boxes. 

Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has been seen as a candidate but, according to VG has ruled herself out.

Ben Wallace, the UK’s Defence Secretary has said that the job would be “fantastic” if he were to get it, but he is seen as a long shot, despite the public support of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.   

Other names that are being floated are the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. 

There is also a slim possibility that Stoltenberg can be persuaded to extend his tenure. 

What does Mette Frederiksen herself say? 

When the story first came up in April, Frederiksen was adamant that she was not a candidate. 

“I have seen the Norwegian article and think that when we get closer to the positions being filled, there will be various rumours. But I am not a candidate. I can deny it. I am very, very happy to be prime minister of Denmark,” she said. 

But is Nato Secretary General really a job anyone turns down?