The plane used for the great escape on the ground at Palma Airport. | H. Carter


Everybody in Mallorca remembers what they were doing at 6.45pm on November 5, 2021 when a group of Moroccan migrants pulled the first stunt of its kind in the world at Palma Airport by using a plane instead of a small boat to enter Europe.

An excellent and thrilling documentary, Operacion Brooklyn, premiered at the Atlàntida Film Festival in Palma on Tuesday. In September it will be on Spanish TV’s RTVE player and is a must-see.
Its director and executive producer is the journalist Tomás Ocaña, who has participated in investigations such as the “Panama Papers” and has won awards such as the Emmy, the Peabody Award and the Ortega y Gasset Award for his stories on crime, corruption and drug trafficking around the world.

It is the first work from CAPA Spain, a new documentary label resulting from the alliance between the iZen Group and the Entrefronteras production company and chief scriptwriter Adolfo Moreno told the Bulletin that if he had made the story up, “no one would have believed me.”

To recap: an Air Arabia Maroc Airbus bound from Casablanca to Istanbul made an emergency landing at Palma Son Sant Joan Airport on November 5 because of what turned out to be a faked medical emergency. During the chaos, 24 Moroccans, all of whom were aged between 20 and 23, apart from two who were in their mid to late 40s, did a runner, escaped from the airport and led to the airport being closed for over three hours. The incident, the first of its kind in the world, made global headlines. All of the escapees, apart from the two eldest, were eventually tracked down to various locations in Mallorca and arrested. They are all now in Barcelona awaiting trial.

They are free but have to check in with the police every week. The eldest pair were last said to have been spotted on the Italian/Swiss border. They boarded a ferry to Barcelona straight after jumping the fences at Palma airport.

They were initially charged with sedition - conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch - but that was dropped after the Spanish government scrapped such charges from the penal code because a number of Catalan politicians were facing similar charges. The Moroccans were then facing up to ten years in jail.

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They are now still awaiting trial for minor offences which will lead to their return home, but prison sentences are unlikely. This, and much more, is what the documentary thriller delves into with first-person statements from lawyers, judges, journalists, prosecutors, politicians and police chiefs as well as recordings of telephone calls between members of the group and their families, family statements and Whatsapp messages. The amount of work which has gone into producing Operacion Brooklyn is truly heroic.

It is called Operacion Brooklyn because there was a Facebook page called Brooklyn which explained how to pull off such an ambitious stunt. It was immediately taken down and Adolfo says that it has yet to be proven if there was a connection between the Palma incident and the Brooklyn post.

“It’s still not clear. Did the group follow the instructions or did the Spanish police and prosecutors put two and two together and want to make an example of them? I guess we’ll have to wait and see when the case finally comes to court,” Adolfo said.

“But I think what is clear, or the two points of reflection which come out of the documentary are firstly that for thousands of young Moroccans the main topic of daily conversation in the bars and cafés is how to migrate to Europe. It’s like an obsession, it’s all they talk or dream about. The second is how much of an influence is social media having on these young people.

“Many have friends or neighbours who now live in Europe and they are constantly posting images on social media showing what a wonderful life they are living. But do these images tell the true story? Morocco is developing but there’s no democracy, people can’t say what they want and it’s still very much a developing country in most areas. So Europe obviously offers more hope and possibilities and a better life. But does this constant bombardment of beautiful pictures help the issue? That’s for the viewers to decide.

“Those playing Russian roulette with their lives who are making the crossing of just 14 kilometres in small boats are paying around 8,000 euros per head to get to Spain but to enter they need a visa. Moroccans use Turkey as the door to Europe because they don’t need visas to enter the country.

“The Palma operation was an audacious one, and I guess that when they saw the door of the plane open they thought that they could see the door to their new future,” he said.