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Police in cross-border hunt for Barcelona suspect

August 19, 2017

Police are still searching for a key suspect behind terror attacks in Catalonia that killed 14 people and injured scores. Investigators say a terror cell had planned a larger attack involving homemade bombs.

Police in Las Ramblas following terror attack in Barcelona
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said Saturday that a terror cell that carried out a pair of deadly attacks the past two days in Catalonia has been "dismantled," although police are still searching for a 22-year-old Moroccan man believed to be the driver in the deadly attack in Barcelona on Thursday.

French police have also been alerted that Younes Abouyaaqoub may have crossed the border driving a rented white Renault Kangoo. Border checks have been ramped-up as a result.

Still, Zoido said 11 of the 12 people comprising the cell were either dead or in custody. 

Police have arrested four suspects over the attack, three of them Moroccan nationals and one a Spaniard from the Spanish enclave Melilla in Morocco. 

Among those arrested is Driss Oukabir, 23. Oukabir's younger brother, Moussa, 17, was later killed by police after Friday morning's attack in Cambrils. He was earlier suspected to be the driver of the van that plowed into crowds along Barcelona's Las Ramblas thoroughfare Thursday.

However, Josep Lluis Trapero of Catalonia's police said the theory that Oukabir was the driver of the van has increasingly "lost weight."

None of the suspects had previous known terror links, according to police. At least one of them has been linked to the rented van used in Barcelona.

Police killed five suspected attackers after the assault in Cambrils, including Said Aallaa, 18, and Mohamed Hychami, 24, both of Morocco. 

Read more: Resilient Barcelona stands up against fear

What happened at Las Ramblas?

On Thursday, a white van zigzagged down Barcelona's Las Ramblas thoroughfare at 4:15 p.m. (1615 GMT/UTC), striking pedestrians strolling in the busy tourist district. At least 13 people were killed, and 120 injured, including 17 who remain in a critical condition. The driver fled on foot.

"It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible," Trapero told reporters.

Read more: Las Ramblas - Barcelona's tourist magnet now a scene of terror

There may be other persons who "collaborated in other aspects of the attack, including its preparation," Trapero added. 

What happened in Cambrils?

Eight hours after the rampage, police shot and killed five suspects attempting to carry out a similar vehicle ramming attack in the seaside town of Cambrils, 120 kilometers (74 miles) south of Barcelona. The attackers used a blue Audi A3 car.

Read more: Barcelona attack is about sowing hatred

A woman died from her injuries, and five civilians and a police officer were injured when the vehicle rammed into pedestrians, prompting a police patrol to unleash a hail of gunfire. Some of the assailants were armed with knives and axes and wearing fake explosive belts, authorities said. 

Map of Spain showing the Catalonia terror attacks

Cambrils mayor Cami Mendoza praised the "speed and efficiency" of the police response that prevented what could have been a much bloodier attack.

What is the link with Alcanar?

Catalonia's interior minister, Joaquim Forn, said early Friday that the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were linked. 

Authorities believe there is also a connection with an explosion in the town of Alcanar that killed two people on Wednesday. Before the ramming attacks, police treated the Alcanar incident as a random gas blast.

"We suspect that they [the occupants] were preparing an explosive device," Trapero said.

"They were preparing one or several attacks in Barcelona and an explosion in Alcanar stopped this as they no longer had the material they needed to commit attacks of an even bigger scope," he added. 

The plot had been in motion for "some time."

Who is behind it?

The "Islamic State" (IS) group claimed its "soldiers" carried out both attacks.

Authorities say the IS claim is credible, though not defintive. but they acknowledge the attacks were the result of a large terrorist cell that had been plotting for a long time from a house in Alcanar, 200 km (125 miles) down the coast from Barcelona.

If the IS claims are confirmed, it would be the latest attack inspired or directed by the terror outfit in Europe over in the past two years. A number of those attacks, including in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm, involved similar simple vehicle attacks that authorities and experts say are nearly impossible to prevent.

Spain, the world's third-biggest tourism destination, is no stranger to terrorism by jihadists and Basque separatists. Bomb attacks carried out by al-Qaida on Madrid commuter trains in 2004 left 191 people dead in Europe's bloodiest terror attack.  

Who are the victims?

Fourteen people were killed and at least 125 injured in the attacks, including people from at least 34 nations. France's foreign ministry said 28 of its citizens were among the injured and eight were in serious condition. Spain's El Pais newspaper reported three of the dead were German nationals.

Although the German government has not confirmed any fatalities, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin did say on Friday that 13 of its citizens were wounded in the attack, "some of them so seriously that they are still fighting for their lives."

DW's Charlotte Chelsom-Pill is in Barcelona and posted this photograph on Twitter of locals placing messages of condolence.

Read more: Merkel: Barcelona terrorists showed 'contempt for humanity'

Rome, meanwhile, gave a statement saying that two Italian citizens had been killed. One was 35-year-old Bruno Gulotta, who was killed in front of his wife and two young children, according to a statement from his employer.

At least one American, one Belgian, one Canadian, and one Portuguese citizen were also confirmed killed.

Morocco said three of its citizens were injured.


World leaders roundly condemned the attack, with US President Donald Trump tweeting that "Islamic terrorism must be stopped." 

Read more: Barcelona attacks drew diverse reactions

Germany's Angela Merkel said the attackers acted with "contempt for humanity," while German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who is in Barcelona, told DW that "everyone around the world [fears more attacks like the one in Barcelona]."

Pope Francis sent his condolences to the Barcelona cardinal, expressing "sorrow and pain," and adding that the attacks gravely offend God. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II offered her sympathies to Spain's King Felipe VI. The British monarch said it was "deeply upsetting when innocent people are put at risk in this way when going about their daily lives."

The UN Security Council also condemned the attack on Thursday.

Thousands of Barcelona residents gathered at Placa de Catalunya to honor the victims of the deadly attacks on Friday, with Spanish King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy joining a minute of silence. Rajoy said Catalonia was "today hit by jihad terrorism like other cities have been throughout the world." He announced three days of national mourning.

The crowd defiantly shouted that they were "not afraid" in the wake of the attacks.

Later on Friday, several dozen far-right protesters gathered near the attack site, holding up signs saying, "Stop Islamization of Europe." Several hundred counterprotesters were also gathered at the scene, jeering the far-right event. The smaller group was eventually removed by police.

bik,cw,es,dj/jlw (Reuters, AP, dpa)