How True Superhero Antonio Salas Infiltrated The Heart Of Global Terrorism

The undercover journalist known as Antonio Salas - a name he chose because of its ubiquity in his native Spain - has carried out some of the most audacious and dangerous examples of covert investigative reporting in history. His unparalleled ability to infiltrate some of the world’s most secretive and paranoid organizations, film their activities, and live to tell the tale marks this masked reporter out as a remarkable True Superhero, shining a light in some of the darkest places on Earth.   

Rare interview footage with Salas

Exposing the Ultras Sur

Salas’s first major undercover investigation was carried out between 2000 and 2002 among the fans of one of his hometown’s major soccer teams, Real Madrid, a club many would argue was the most prestigious and widely supported on Earth. Real’s supporters included the infamous Ultras Sur , a hardcore group of violent hooligans with an overt neo-Nazi ideology; their leader, Jose Luis Ochaita, had previously been arrested for waving Nazi flags in Germany and was banned from matches for three years after attacking a referee. Salas infiltrated the Ultras Sur by posing as a Nazi, at first on internet message boards and later in person at the group’s haunts around the stadium. By 2002, he had gathered enough evidence to expose not just the sickening bigotry and violence of the Ultras Sur - the group would organize post-match cacerias, or hunts, where they would assault Jews, people of color, LGBT fans and local homeless people - but also the fact that the group had close ties with the Real Madrid hierarchy, including a private office within the team’s home ground where they kept drums, flags, racist banners, and other paraphernalia. Thanks to Antonio’s testimony, the group’s second in command, Alvaro Cadenas, was jailed for four years for stabbing a policeman. It would take another decade for Real Madrid to ban Ultras Sur from the grounds. They responded by desecrating the grave of club owner Florentino Perez’s wife. Meanwhile, Ochaita took out a contract on Salas’s life that stands to this day.

How True Superhero Antonio Salas Infiltrated The Heart Of Global Terrorism

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The undercover journalist known as Antonio Salas - a name he chose because of its ubiquity in his native Spain - has carried out some of the most audacious and dangerous examples of covert investigative reporting in history. His unparalleled ability to infiltrate some of the world’s most secretive and paranoid organizations, film their activities, and live to tell the tale marks this masked reporter out as a remarkable True Superhero, shining a light in some of the darkest places on Earth.   

Rare interview footage with Salas

Exposing the Ultras Sur

Salas’s first major undercover investigation was carried out between 2000 and 2002 among the fans of one of his hometown’s major soccer teams, Real Madrid, a club many would argue was the most prestigious and widely supported on Earth. Real’s supporters included the infamous Ultras Sur , a hardcore group of violent hooligans with an overt neo-Nazi ideology; their leader, Jose Luis Ochaita, had previously been arrested for waving Nazi flags in Germany and was banned from matches for three years after attacking a referee. Salas infiltrated the Ultras Sur by posing as a Nazi, at first on internet message boards and later in person at the group’s haunts around the stadium. By 2002, he had gathered enough evidence to expose not just the sickening bigotry and violence of the Ultras Sur - the group would organize post-match cacerias, or hunts, where they would assault Jews, people of color, LGBT fans and local homeless people - but also the fact that the group had close ties with the Real Madrid hierarchy, including a private office within the team’s home ground where they kept drums, flags, racist banners, and other paraphernalia. Thanks to Antonio’s testimony, the group’s second in command, Alvaro Cadenas, was jailed for four years for stabbing a policeman. It would take another decade for Real Madrid to ban Ultras Sur from the grounds. They responded by desecrating the grave of club owner Florentino Perez’s wife. Meanwhile, Ochaita took out a contract on Salas’s life that stands to this day.

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Antonio’s second major investigation saw him going undercover to expose gangs trafficking women and girls into Spain for forced prostitution. He later described this operation by saying, “Although it wasn’t the most dangerous situation I have been in, the investigation was by far the most traumatic and psychologically taxing experience.“ In addition to the horrors that he saw carried out, he also received a chilling warning of the dangers of his own fame; the ringleader of the network of brothels he was investigating started to rant about journalists, and particularly one reporter who had just published a book about his investigations into Spain’s neo-Nazi underground: Antonio Salas. Salas feared his cover had been blown but held his nerve and successfully completed his operation, publishing a second book exposing the sex traffickers in 2004. It was during this period that events would lead him to his biggest and most dangerous undercover role.

An Ultras Sur giving a Nazi salute at the Bernabeu stadium

Infiltrating the Ramirez family

The 2004 Madrid train bombings saw a series of simultaneous explosions on trains across Madrid that killed 193 people, injured more than 2,000, and prompted Salas to begin preparations for his next operation. “I wanted to know what goes through the mind of a person who is capable of killing for an ideology.” He learned Arabic and had his skin darkened while concocting an elaborate alter-ego, Mohammed Abdallah, a Spanish-Venezuelan with Palestinian grandparents whose pregnant wife had been killed in a Palestinian village by an Israeli bullet. He went to enormous lengths to validate this backstory, including persuading a female friend to travel with him to Jenin to take part in family photographs, and he also copied the Quran out by hand into a notebook that he would carry with him everywhere he went. Finally, he rounded the story out by traveling around the Middle East for several months posing as a pro-Jihad journalist, even going to the lengths of having two books published in Arabic. With his cover established, Salas then headed to Venezuela, a safe haven for international terrorist groups and a perfect environment to report on the many connections between cells with often disparate objectives and ideologies. 

On arrival in Venezuela, Salas set himself up as the local representative of Hezbollah and began making contacts in the terrorist underworld. He made swift progress, spending time with groups as diverse as Hamas, al-Qaeda, Colombia’s FARC rebels, the Peruvian Túpac Amaru group, various Venezuelan paramilitary groups, and the Basque separatist organization ETA. Salas had to go to extreme lengths to maintain his cover, and claims that he even had himself circumcised in order to accept an invitation to a bathhouse with a local al-Qaeda leader. His most remarkable contact, though, was with the jailed Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. 

Hidden camera footage of Salas (bottom left) making telephone contact with Carlos the Jackal, watched by his brother Vladimir

Carlos was arguably the most prolific terrorist of the 1970s and early ‘80s, working at first for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and later as a freelance employed by various communist state agencies, including the KGB. After many years as one of the world’s most wanted men, he had finally been arrested and turned over to the French authorities in 1994; by the time Salas made contact Carlos had been in the La Santé prison in Paris for a decade, but was corresponding with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by post and was lobbying to be repatriated to Venezuela. Salas infiltrated the circle of Carlos’s younger brother, Vladimir Ramirez - there is also a third brother, Lenin Ramirez - and presented himself as not just a campaigning journalist and author, but also a webmaster who could assist with the online battle to have Carlos returned to his home country. Before long, he found himself speaking with Carlos by phone, in Arabic, and successfully won his trust, leading to a recorded confession that Carlos had trained the ETA cell who assassinated the Spanish Prime Minister, Luis Carrero Blanco, in a 1973 car bomb attack.  

 

Reporting without judgment

Antonio’s methods have proved controversial. He almost always works alone, and his books on his investigations are self published. This gives him the freedom to write his stories as he chooses, and his refusal to demonize his subjects is seen by many as a weakness, and a sign that he is too attached to his quarry. Salas disagrees, saying: “I have the opportunity to record characters considered by the police and experts to be authentic monsters. I don’t agree with such a simplistic label. It is only by living with these people that we have a closer and more direct perspective that allows us to understand why they do what they do, which does not mean that we justify them. This is critical when we write the books and when our message reaches them. Many of them, when they see themselves portrayed in this report, without judgment and without censorship, see the absurdity of their violence. I have recieved many messages from Nazis, pimps, and would-be terrorists who have left this world after reading my books.”

His work has certainly led to the conviction of a great many violent and dangerous individuals, and the efficacy of his methods cannot be denied. Hopefully this True Superhero will not be unmasked any time soon, and can continue to cast a light on areas of the underworld that are invisible to more conventional investigative methods.

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