Van attack kills 14, wounds at least 100 in Barcelona

Van attack kills 14, wounds at least 100 in Barcelona

Van attack kills 14, wounds at least 100 in Barcelona

AFP photo

Spain launched a sweeping anti-terrorism operation on Aug. 18, shooting dead five would-be attackers after a suspected jihadist drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 14 people and wounding many more.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the deadly Aug. 17 rampage along the city’s most famous avenue, which was packed with tourists taking an afternoon stroll. The death toll could rise, with more than 100 injured, authorities stated. 

Hours after the attack early on Aug. 18, as security forces hunted for the van’s driver, police said they killed five attackers in Cambrils, a town south of Barcelona, to thwart a separate attack using explosive belts.

Details of the Cambrils incident, which police linked to the Barcelona attack, were still sketchy. But police said six civilians and a police officer were injured when the attackers ran them over in a car, before police shot them dead and carried out controlled explosions.

Authorities later said the explosive belts were fake.

Shortly before midnight on Aug. 16, the day before the van ploughed into the tree-lined walkway of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas avenue, one person was killed in an explosion in a house in a separate town southwest of Barcelona, police said. Residents there were preparing explosives, a police source added.

Police said they had arrested a Moroccan and a man from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla, though neither of them was the van driver. He was seen escaping on foot and was still at large. A third man was arrested in the town of Ripoll on Aug. 18.

A judicial source said investigators believed a cell of at least eight people, possibly 12, may have been involved in the Barcelona attack and Cambrils plot and that it was planning to use gas canisters.

Police sources have told Spanish media that the man they are looking for is Moussa Oukabir, the younger brother of Driss Oukabir, who was arrested on Aug. 17 on suspicion of hiring the van used in the attack.

 Driss Oukabir has denied involvement and is reported to have told police that his identity documents had been stolen and used to obtain the vehicle.

Catalan police believe that Moussa Oukabir, whose is reported to be either 17 or 18 years old, fled the scene of the atrocity by road and is still on the run. 

The incident took place at the height of the tourist season in Barcelona, which is one of Europe’s top travel destinations with at least 11 million visitors a year.

Witnesses to the van attack said the white vehicle had zigzagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, ramming pedestrians and cyclists, sending some hurtling through the air and leaving bodies strewn in its wake.

Carles Puigdemont, president of the region of Catalonia, warned the suspect still on the run was potentially dangerous, saying “these types of people have already demonstrated they have the will to harm whatever happens.” 

The injured and dead came from 24 different countries, the Catalan government said on Aug. 18 in a statement, ranging from France and Germany to Pakistan and the Philippines. Spanish media said several children were killed. 

German television channel ZDF reported that three Germans were among those killed, and Belgium’s foreign minister said a Belgian was among the dead. France said 26 of its citizens were hurt, and 11 of them were in a serious condition. Australia said at least four of its nationals were injured, and Italy three.  A Turkish citizen was also among those heavily wounded in the attack.

The ISIL-linked Amaq news agency stated: “The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states,” referring to a U.S.-led coalition against the jihadist group. 

Spain has several hundred soldiers in Iraq providing training to local forces in the fight against ISIL, but they are not involved in ground operations. 

If the involvement of ISIL is confirmed, it would be the latest in a string of attacks in the past 13 months in which they have used vehicles to bring carnage to the streets of European cities. That modus operandi - crude, deadly and very hard to prevent - has killed well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when jihadists placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800. 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced three days of official mourning for what he called a “jihadist attack.”

The Spanish royal household said on Twitter: “They are murderers, nothing more than criminals who are not going to terrorise us. All of Spain is Barcelona.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said: “The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough strong, we love you!”

Turkey has also strongly condemned the terror attack, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offering condolences to the Spanish King Phelipe VI.

“I strongly condemn the attack that showed the brutal face of terrorism once again and targeted the shared values of the whole humanity not just Spain,” he said.    

Erdoğan conveyed words of sympathy to the Spanish people and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.      

A statement was also released from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. 

“We condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack perpetrated in Barcelona today,” the ministry said in a written statement.   

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe’s deadliest militant attacks in recent years, tweeted: “All my thoughts and France’s solidarity to the victims of the tragic attack in Barcelona.”

Other governments also expressed condemnation and sympathy. Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the attack showed the European Union’s system of migrant relocation was wrong.

“It is dangerous. Europe should wake up,” he said. “We are dealing here with a clash of civilisations.”