Spain, Finland mourn attack victims as probes focus on Moroccans
BARCELONA / HESLINKIBrief-stricken Spain and Finland paid homage on Aug. 20 to victims of terror assaults, as investigators turned their focus to Moroccan suspects in separate probes.
Spanish King Felipe, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont led the ceremony in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church mourning the 14 people killed by jihadists who used vehicles to mow down pedestrians in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard on Aug. 17 and in the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils early on Aug. 18.
“These have been days of tears, many tears,” said auxiliary bishop Sebastia Taltavull.
Outside the church, snipers were posted on rooftops surrounding the landmark building by Gaudi, while heavily armed police stood guard as hundreds of people gathered under grey skies.
Catalonia resident Teresa Rodriguez said she had turned up to pray for the victims.
“What happened in Las Ramblas is really hard for us, we go for walks there often, it could have happened to me, my children or anyone. And here we are. It’s huge, huge,” she said as she fought back tears.
Later on Aug. 20, nearly 100,000 people were expected at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium for their team’s first game of the season, to be marked by a minute of silence for the victims.
Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Aug. 19 the cell behind the carnage that also injured 120 had been “dismantled,” although local authorities took a more cautious tone.
Police were still hunting 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, who media reports say was the driver of a van that smashed into crowds on the popular Las Ramblas boulevard on Thursday, killing 13 people.
Hours later, there was a similar assault in the seaside town of Cambrils that left one woman dead. Police shot and killed the five attackers, some of whom were wearing fake explosive belts.
An extensive security operation including roadblocks was mounted overnight across Catalonia.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, believed to be its first in Spain.
The terror cell in Spain reportedly comprised at least 12 young men, some of them teenagers.
Investigators are seeking to unravel the role of a Morrocan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is believed to have radicalized many of the youths from a small town called Ripoll, at the foot of the Pyrenees.
Several of the suspects - including Abouyaaqoub - grew up or lived in the town of about 10,000 inhabitants.
On Aug. 19, police raided the imam’s apartment in Ripoll, his flatmate, who would only identify himself as Nourddem, told AFP.
Finland also observed a minute of silence on Aug. 20 for the victims of a stabbing attack in the city of Turku that left two people dead and eight injured.
The Augb 18 stabbing is being investigated as the country’s first terror attack.
At Turku’s market square, where the attack happened, several hundred people gathered to hold a minute of silence at 10:00 a.m. local time.
Finnish police said on Aug. 19 that an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker deliberately targeted women in the attack.
His motive was not yet known.
Police shot and wounded the knife-wielding suspect, detaining him minutes after the afternoon rampage in the southwestern city.
All of the victims were women, including the two dead, except for two men who tried to fend off the attacker.
An Italian, a Swede and a Briton were among the injured.
Russia probes knife attack
Separately, Russia said on Aug. 20 that a stabbing which injured seven people and was claimed by ISIL is being probed by top investigators in Moscow, as new details emerged.
A black-clad attacker in a balaclava ranged through central streets of the city around 2,100 kilometers northeast of Moscow early on Aug. 19, stabbing people apparently at random before being shot by police.
Russia, which initially said the theory of terrorism was “not the main one” being considered, has opened a criminal probe into attempted murder and has not reacted officially to the ISIL claim.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said in a statement on Aug. 20 that “due to the wide public reaction,” its chief Alexander Bastrykin has put the case directly under control of its central apparatus in Moscow.
Unconfirmed media reports on Aug. 19 described the attacker as a 19-year-old whose father originates from Dagestan in Russia’s mainly-Muslim North Caucasus region.
Video posted by Izvestia newspaper on its website on Aug. 20 showed the attacker, a slim young man, lying on the ground dressed all in black with a red object taped round his waist.