Barcelona searches for van driver that killed more than dozen along iconic promenade
A van has crashed into dozens of people in Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas district, local police said on Aug. 17. (Reuters) August 18 at 7:28 AM
BARCELONA â" Spanish police were searching Friday for the man who swerved his van onto Barcelonaâs iconic Las Ramblas promenade, killing at least 13 people and unleashing the worst terror attack on Spain in more than a decade.
Authorities had three people in detention, but the main suspect remained the target of a massive manhunt even as the nation began to mourn for the international group of victims struck dead as they wandered Barcelonaâs tourist heart.
A 14th victim also died of wounds sustained in a second Friday morning car attack in a seaside city about 60 miles away. Police believe the two attacks were connected, and they said that all five men who plowed their Audi across the corniche in Cambrils had been shot dead.
In Barcelona, thousands of people gathered in a square at the top of Las Ramblas for a minute of silence, led by Spanish King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Afterward, they cheered, held single red roses to the sky and chanted in Catalan: âI am not afraid.â
In a sign of the evolving investigation, Rajoy led an emergency meeting of security officials in Barcelona. The meeting included a review of all leads in the manhunt for the driver and an analysis of âthe latest detailsâ on the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.
The whole Las Ramblas neighborhood was eerily quiet as heavily armed police patrolled and vendors forced to evacuate the night before came to close up their flower shops and tourist kiosks.
Tourists and onlookers slowly filled the long boulevard, turning what is ordinarily a vacation hotspot into a site of mourning. Some laid out candles to commemorate the victims.
Thursdayâs afternoonâs shocking attack by a white delivery van represents the latest use of a vehicle in a terrorist attack against civilians, mimicking incidents in Berlin, London, Stockholm and the French city of Nice over the past year. The attack was claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.
[Video: Sadness, shock on Barcelonaâs famous Las Ramblas]
The initial attack broke the peace of a warm summer afternoon in a packed, tourist-friendly area of Barcelona at the peak of vacation season, and the victims came from well beyond the cityâs borders.
More than a hundred people from at least 34 nationalities were hurt and the death toll could rise, Cataloniaâs emergency serv ice wrote on Twitter. The wide-reaching impact was a measure of the international draw of the cosmopolitan Las Ramblas area, which has long stood at the heart of the city. Franceâs Foreign Ministry said 26 of its citizens were among the injured, including 11 seriously.Full Screen Autoplay Close Skip Ad Ã Photos from the scene after a van plowed into a crowd in Barcelona View Photos Caption A white van jumped the sidewalk in Barcelonaâs historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and injuring several people, police said. Aug. 17, 2017 People flee the scene after a van hopped a curb and struck pedestrians. Buy Photo Wait 1 second to continue.
Early Friday, police arrested a Moroccan man and a Spanish man in connection with the attack
Police were searching for the younger brother of the Moroccan they already have in custody. The older brotherâs identification card was found in the van, but he turned himself in and told police that he believed his sibling may have stolen the document to rent the vehicle, two Spanish security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the ongoing investigation.
A third suspect was arrested Friday in the northern Catalan town of Ripoli, but he was not believed to be the driver, authorities said.
It was around 1 a.m. on Friday that police responded to an attack near the boardwalk of the beach town of Cambrils, 60 miles southwest of Barcelona, where an Audi had plowed into a crowd.
[Photo gallery: Terror in Barcelona]
The police exchanged fire with the men in the car, killing four immediately while a fifth later died of his injuries. One of the seven victims injured in the attack also la ter died Friday, Catalan security officials said, adding that one of the injured was a police officer.
Amateur video aired by Spainâs state TVE broadcaster showed several police cars speeding along what appeared to be a seafront boulevard as people screamed, followed by a brief volley of about 10 bullets. A second video showed three bodies on the ground in front of the townâs yacht club.
Authorities carried out controlled detonations of what they thought were explosive belts worn by the men, but turned out to be well-made fakes.
Spain had been spared a large-scale terrorist attack since the 2004 bombing of the Madrid rail system that killed 192 people and injured about 2,000, but authorities had long braced for another hit. The attack Thursday brought to Spain the same sort of vehicular carnage that has visited Britain, France, Germany and Sweden since 2016, and highlighted the difficulty of defending dense city centers from violence that requires no explosi ves or training.
Residents of Barcelona said they had long feared an attack on their bustling city.
âThis is a huge city, and somehow we were always expecting something like this, but of course youâre never prepared,â said Cristina Nadal, 44, an aide for the Catalan government, who came to the moment of silence on Friday.
The crowd was âexactly what we wanted to show. That although the terrorists want to beat us, we can show to the world that we can still stand strong,â she said.
Two longtime Muslim residents of Barcelona said they were furious about the violence.
âWhat Islam teaches us is that killing one person is like killing all of humanity,â said Nagma Jawed, 40, who moved to the city 20 years ago from her native India and runs a textile shop in the city.
âFirst of all, we are human beings. Our religion comes after that,â said Jawed, who was wearing a headscarf on Friday as she stood in the square with her husband for the mourning ceremony.
It was not immediately clear how closely the Islamic State had worked with the attackers. The group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks inspired by its rhetoric but not directly planned by Islamic State leaders.
Police later said they were looking into a potential link between the van attack and a pair of explosions that destroyed a house in Alcanar, about 100 miles southeast of Barcelona, earlier in the day. One person was killed there and 16 were injured, including police officers and firefighters who were investigating the initial blast. The blast at the house, which apparently contained propane canisters, was initially reported to be a gas explosion.
At least one of the three men in detention was involved in the explosion, one of the Spanish security officials said, and counterterrorism authorities were proceeding on the assumption that the propane canisters were intended for use as part of an attack and exploded prematu rely.
The Las Ramblas attack, which took place over a few terror-filled minutes just before 5 p.m. local time, set off a wave of panic and confusion as authorities sought to track down the perpetrators, and fearful people hid for hours in barricaded shops, restaurants and churches.
Witnesses described chaos as the white delivery van suddenly swung off a street and onto the wide pedestrian mall that draws tourists and residents to its bars, cafes and shops. As people started to run, the driver swerved the vehicle from side to side, in an apparent effort to inflict more damage.
When the van came to a halt, its front was smashed and crumpled inward from the bodies it had hit.
Some locals expressed frustration at authoritiesâ failure to place barricades at the entrances to the boulevard in a new era of vehicular terrorism. Las Ramblas is one of the cityâs top tourist areas, with a wide pedestrian promenade flanked by roadways.
After the atta ck, Spanish authorities shared the names of at least two people with European and Arab intelligence agencies, but the suspects did not appear to have been flagged for connections to extremism, according to an Arab and a European intelligence official, neither of whom was authorized to speak on the record.
Authorities appear to think that a small group of two or three people planned the attack, the Arab intelligence official said.
Islamic State supporters celebrated the Barcelona attack Thursday and promoted previous threats made against Spain, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has called on supporters to carry out attacks using vehicles. The group has claimed responsibility for car attacks in Europe, as well as at Ohio State University last year.
The Catalonia region of Spain has faced repeated terrorist attacks over decades from the ETA Basque separatist group.
In July 2016, a truck was driven into Bastille Day crowds along a seaside corniche in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people were killed when a driver used a hijacked truck to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.
In March, a man in a rented sport-utility vehicle plowed into pedestrians on Londonâs Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and fatally stabbed a police officer. A month later in Stockholm, a rejected asylum-seeker from Uzbekistan crashed a truck into a central department store in an attack that killed five people.
Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, RaÃºl Gallego Abellan in Barcelona, Karla Adam and Anne-Marie OâConnor in London, Souad Mekhennet in Edinburgh and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
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