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Spain 2012 Crime and Safety Report: Madrid

Europe > Spain > Madrid

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

Overall, Spain is considered a safe destination for tourists and business people. Nevertheless, street crime continues to be a concern, most notably in urban areas and those areas frequented by tourists. With an estimated 1.2 million American tourists visiting Spain each year, U.S. Embassy Madrid, U.S. Consulate General Barcelona, and the six U.S. consular agencies receive thousands of reports from Americans who are robbed or victimized in a variety of scams. 

Foreigners seem to be the targets of choice for pickpockets and thieves, who operate in hotel lobbies, restaurants, public transit systems, airports, and other areas frequented by tourists. Most notably, tourists have reported baggage stolen while checking in or out of their hotels, checking in at the airport, or while hailing a taxi. Similarly, victims report being approached by individuals holding maps and asking for directions. While the victim is distracted, an accomplice picks the victim’s pockets or purse, removing cash, credit cards, passports, and other valuables. Other diversion techniques include dropping coins or keys near the victim, and “inadvertently” spilling something on the victim and offering to clean it up. Some thieves pose as plainclothes police, flashing what appears to be a badge with credentials. The victim is asked to surrender identification to the “police” while one of the alleged police officers relieves the victim of his or her valuables. Tourists should consider any stop by a non-uniformed officer suspicious, and a uniformed officer should be sought before submitting to any request for identification or questioning. This is usually sufficient to dissuade the perpetrators. 

The highest incidence of street crime is during the holiday period (late November through early January), the busy summer tourist season, and during periods of economic downturns.

Road Safety 

Spain has an excellent network of roads and highways. A speed limit of 120 km/h is enforced unless otherwise posted. The Guardia Civil patrols the highways and uses radar and cameras, both fixed and mobile, to enforce the speed limits. Emergency phones are located on the side of the highways at regular intervals. 

Political Violence 

Spain faces terrorism threats from the Basque terrorist organization ETA and the presence of al-Qa’ida elements and cells. 

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna - Basque Fatherland and Liberty) is an indigenous terrorist organization established in 1959. The objective of ETA is to establish an independent Basque nation in northern Spain comprising the Basque autonomous region (provinces of Vizcaya, Alava, and Guipuzcoa) and the autonomous region of Navarra, as well as the French department of Pyrenees-Atlantique. 

In Spain, ETA traditionally directs its attacks against government officials (police, military, and politicians) and facilities, journalists, and business executives (especially those involved in bringing high-speed rail to the Basque region.). While ETA operates principally in the areas of northern Spain and southwestern France, attacks do take place in other areas including Madrid, Andalusia, and Barcelona. Although handguns were used in targeted assassinations, ETA’s weapon of choice is explosives, both planted explosive devices and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). In order to minimize collateral damage and casualties, ETA normally provides the government with advance notice of impending attacks by calling in the time and location of bombings.  Note – advanced notice is usually phoned in when civilians could be injured. ETA considers government officials (and their families) to be legitimate targets and provides no advance warning for those attacks. However, attacks continue to result in deaths and injuries. ETA has been blamed for over 840 deaths in the 40+ years that its been fighting for independence from Spain. Recently, coordinated law enforcement efforts in Spain, France, and Portugal have led to numerous arrests of known and suspected ETA members that has reduced their numbers and weakened the group. Some notable events since 2009 are listed below.

June 19, 2009 - ETA assassinated a member of the Spanish National Police in the Basque region by placing a bomb under his car.
July 29, 2009 - ETA detonated an explosive-laden van outside a Civil Guard barracks in Burgos. The blast injured more than 60 Civil Guards, spouses, and children. The following day, ETA murdered two Civil Guards in Mallorca with a car bomb. Additionally, several explosive devices, which failed to detonate, were placed in restrooms of bars/restaurants.
January 10, 2010 - Portuguese police arrest two suspects with weapons in their van near the Portuguase/Spanish border. Another two individuals were arrested in central France. The individuals were arrested with weapons, false license plates, and fake documents.
February 7, 2010 - Portuguese police seize more 1.5 tons of explosives and other bomb making materials from a ETA safehouse. The seizure included 1,330 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, 75 kg of potassium nitrate, and 40 liters of sulphuric acid, pentrite, aluminum powder and nitromethane.  
February 28, 2010 - France arrested three ETA members, including suspected military chief Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui; Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, who is suspected in the 2008 assassination of Spanish parliamentarian Carrasco and businessman Uria Mendizabal; and Gergorio Jimenez Morales, who allegedly transported equipment to carry out attacks.
March 14, 2010 - British authorities arrested suspected ETA member Garikoitz Ibarlucea Murua on a Spanish extradition warrant.
March 17, 2010 – Suspected ETA members shoot and kill a French security officer from a stolen vehicle. 
May 20, 2010 - Suspected ETA military leader, Mikel Karrera Sarobe, is arrested in France. 
September 30, 2010 - ETA members Juan Carlos Besance and Xabier Atristain are arrested in Spain. The ETA members tell Spanish authorities that they and other ETA members had received training in Venezuela. 
January 10, 2011 - ETA declared a “permanent and general ceasefire.” A previous announcement was issued on September 5, 2010. Spanish authorities have commented that despite the latest announcement, they do not believe that ETA is serious about the ceasefire. ETA has not disarmed or disbanded. 
January 14-15, 2011 – France, in cooperation with Spanish authorities, arrested three ETA members linked to attacks against French security services. The arrests are the first made under the new Rajoy administration. 
January 18, 2011 – Spain arrested 10 ETA activists believed to have been providing IT support to ETA and holding underground meetings to reactivate the pro-ETA group EKIN. 
July 22, 2011 – a Madrid court jails former ETA military leader Garikoitz “Txeroki” (Cherokee) Aspiazu for 377 years. He was convicted for participating in the attempted assassination of a mayor in 2002.  
October 20, 2011 – ETA declared a “definitive cessation of armed activities.” Spanish authorities continue to question the credibility of the message, given that ETA has still not disarmed or disbanded. 

ETA has reportedly paused their practice of asking local businesses for “economic support” to continue their fight for an independent Basque country. These “requests” (extortion) were normally letters sent to the businesses, some with actual amounts specified, while others contain vague threats of repercussions if economic assistance is not provided. Though there have been no recent reports of extortion in the region, ETA could renew this activity at any time. 

International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism 

Spanish authorities aggressively mobilized to deal with the threat of international terrorism following the March 11, 2004 bombing of the commuter railway at the Atocha station in Madrid. Some 21 people were convicted of participating in the Atocha bombing. The Supreme Court later acquitted four of the 21 indivdiauls and upheld the lower court acquittal of the alleged mastermind of the attacks. Though al-Qa’ida was not proven directly involved in the attack, those involved in the planning and execution of attack were said to be inspired by al-Qa’ida. 

The Spanish government continues to aggressively fight against international terrorism. However, given its proximity to North Africa and its large Islamic population, Spain serves as a natural gateway for Islamic extremists desiring entry into Europe and serves as a logistical hub for operations in Europe and the Middle East. The presence of Islamic terrorist cells is both pernicious and pervasive, as illustrated by the January 2008 arrest of alleged radical jihadists for planning attacks on the Barcelona metro system and elsewhere. On December 14, 2009 a Madrid court convicted 11 members of the Barcelona cell and sentenced them from 8-14 years.

Civil Unrest

Public demonstrations happen frequently in Spain. All demonstrations must have a valid permit and be approved by the local police. Typically, there are two common locations for these demonstrations: Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Neptuno. Usually, these demonstrations are well controlled under the tight supervision of the police. These events should be avoided because hostile elements within the crowds can escalate the situation. Additionally, these large crowds are attractive targets for pickpockets and terrorists.  

The 15-M protest movement encompasses a broad membership across the social and political spectrum. Spurred by social media networking, it encouraged Spaniards to protest the government’s failure to respond to the prolonged economic crisis. The 15-M movement is active in 50 cities across Spain and has been responsible for organizing demonstrations ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 participants, some resulting in confrontations with police. 

There are also right-wing anti-immigrant groups within Madrid, but the U.S. Embassy is unaware of any specifically violent actions by any particular group. 

Post-Specific Concerns

At this time, U.S. Embassy Madrid does not have any specific concerns regarding environmental hazards, industrial and transportation accidents, kidnappings, or drugs and narco-terrorism.

Police Response

The number for any emergency (police, fire, ambulance) is 112. In Madrid, and in most metropolitan areas of Spain, English speakers are normally on duty to assist non-Spanish speakers. 

Victims of crime should notify the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services, the Consulate General in Barcelona, or the nearest consular agency during normal business hours. 

Medical Emergencies

Medical services in Spain are comparable to the United States. Dial 112 from any phone to request assistance in a medical emergency. An English speaker is available to assist non-Spanish speakers. 

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Upon arrival at the airport, train station, bus station, or hotel, keep a close eye on your personal belongings. It is recommended that travelers utilize taxis rather than public transportation, particularly during the evening hours. 

Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. Carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a clear copy of your passport for identification. Secure the passport, extra cash, credit cards, and any other personal documents in a safe location—preferably a hotel safe or something similar. When you need to carry documents, credit cards, or cash, secure them in a hard-to-reach place, and do not to carry all valuables together in the same pocket of a purse, backpack, jacket, or pants. Wallets should be carried in a buttoned or zippered front or side pocket vice the back or breast pocket. Avoid carrying anything valuable in the lower pockets of cargo pants. Purses and handbags should be clutched in front of you and avoid draping them over chairs or putting them on the floor.  

Dress as plainly as possible when you are out in the street. Specifically, avoid wearing expensive jewelry or walking around with cameras hanging from your neck and an open map or guidebook in your hands. Most importantly, avoid flashing cash in public.  

While the incidence of sexual assault is statistically very low, attacks do occur. We recommend that American citizens remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and travel with a companion if possible, especially at night. Spanish authorities warn of the availability of so-called "date-rape" drugs and other drugs, including GBH and liquid ecstasy. American citizens should not lower their personal security awareness because they are on vacation. 

A number of American citizens have been victims of various scams in Spain. One scheme involves an American citizen receiving an email or telephone call requesting money to assist a relative or acquaintance who has been arrested, detained, robbed, or injured in Spain. It is highly recommended that a person who receives such an email not send money until independently confirming that the person is, in fact, in Spain by checking with the U.S. Embassy. Please note that if a relative or friend were arrested in Spain, bail money would not be sent through a commercial money order.  
Recent scams have involved individuals portraying themselves as U.S. Embassy or Consular officers. Please contact the official numbers for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to verify if the caller is a legitimate U.S. government employee. Other scams include lottery or advance-fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via Internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another. For more information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web page on international financial scams. 

Further Information

U.S. Embassy Madrid, Consular Section
Calle Serrano, 75 
Tel: 91 587 2200

U.S. Consulate General Barcelona 
Passeo Reina Elisonda de Moncada, 23 
Tel: 93 280 2227 

Consular Agencies

Sevilla - Plaza Nueva, 8 
Tel: 95 421 8751 

Valencia - Dr Romagosa, 1 
Tel: 96 351 6973 
A Coruna - Calle Juana de Vega, 8
Tel: 98 121 3233 

Las Palmas - Los Martinez de Escobar, 3 
Tel: 92 827 1259 

Malaga (Fuengirola) - Avenida Juan Gomez, 8 
Tel: 95 247 4891 

Palma de Mallorca - Edificio Reina Constanza 
Calle Porto Pi, 8, no. 94 
Tel: 97 140 3707 

Travelers should check the U.S. Department of State’s Country Specific Information Sheet for Spain and other relevent public announcements before traveling to Spain and particularly when traveling to the Basque region. Additionally, travelers should monitor the local news once in Spain.

OSAC Country Council

Spain has an active OSAC Country Council, which meets twice a year. For further information on the Spain OSAC Country Council, please contact the Regional Security Office of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid or visit

Points of Contact
RSO: Lisa Grice (34) 91 587 2550 
ARSO: Karin Terry (34) 91 587 2549 
ARSO: Derek Dela-Cruz (34) 91 587 2231