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Second Barcelona terror attack suspect released

August 24, 2017

A week after two deadly attacks in Catalonia, a Spanish judge conditionally released a second suspect. Authorities expanded their search for accomplices and identified the remains of the last member of the terror cell.

People walking near a massive number of flowers and candles in Barcelona
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/X. Bonilla

A Spanish high court judge on Thursday conditionally freed Salh El Karib, one of the four living suspects in last week's deadly terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, due to a lack of evidence against him.

El Karib was detained after police discovered that he purportedly booked plane tickets for one of the cell's members at the cybercafe he ran in Ripoll, the town where the cell is believed to have formed.

Read more: Barcelona terror attack suspect admits larger plot

Judge Fernando Andreu ruled there was insufficient evidence to keep El Karib detained while the investigation remains ongoing. El Karib, however, will not be allowed to leave the country and will have to appear before the court once a week.

On Tuesday, the judge also freed another suspect, Mohammed Aalla, under similar conditions. Aalla's Audi A3 was used in the Cambrils attack, although he told the court that it was only registered under his name for insurance purposes and was used by his brother, Said.

The remaining two suspects will remain in prison until their trial begins. Mohamed Houli Chemlal and Driss Oukabir, aged 21 and 28, respectively, face charges of membership in a terrorist group and murder. 

The attacks last week left 15 people dead and more than 120 injured.

Police identify final suspect

Spanish police on Thursday revealed they had identified the remains of the 12th and last remaining suspect connected to the terror cell. Youssef Aalla, the brother of  Mohammed and Said, died in last Wednesday's accidental blast in the group's bomb factory in Alcanar.

"Youssef Aalla is the last corpse identified in the Alcanar explosion," Catalan regional police said. "That is the last known member of the cell," whose remains had yet to be formally released.

Infografik Karte Barcelona Terror ENG

Altogether, eight people connected to the attacks in are dead. Five were shot and killed by police during the group's second attack last Friday in Cambrils. They included Mohammed and Said Aalla.

Younes Abouyaaqoub, who was identified as the driver in a van attack on Barcelona's Las Ramblas promenade, was shot dead by police on Monday in Subirats, west of Barcelona.

The remaining two, Youssef Aalla and the cell's suspected leader, Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, died in Wednesday's house explosion, on the eve of the Barcelona attack. Es Satty is believed to have recruited and radicalized the young Moroccan men.

Police under fire over Es Satty

Catalan police came under increasing pressure in the Spanish press after police records showed that they had no information on Islamist cleric Es Satty.

On Thursday, Joaquim Forn, a home affairs official in Catalonia's regional government, told Spanish news agency EFE that he was unaware of any investigation into Es Satty or any intelligence that the imam could pose a potential threat.

However, an anonymous source in Catalonia's regional government told Reuters news agency that a Belgian official had warned a Catalan counterpart about Es Satty and his suspected Islamist links. The cleric had lived in the Belgian town of Vilvoorde, known as a hub for Islamic radicalization, between January and March last year.

Read more: Catalonia's Islamic extremism problem

"The communication between the two policemen was not official. They knew each other because they had met in a police seminar," the source said.

It remains unclear whether Catalan police followed up on the lead, although the Reuters source said there were no police documents suggesting that the police had any information on the imam.

Es Satty was, however, once ordered to leave Spain after he served a 4-year jail sentence for drug trafficking. But the order was annulled on appeal and the judge in the case ruled that the cleric's employment record demonstrated "his efforts to integrate into Spanish society." According to officials, the court was not presented with any evidence suggesting terrorist links.

Barcelona: tourism post-terrorism?

dm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, EFE)