Terror in Spain: 14 killed in two incidents after van mowed down pedestrians and police shoot five suspected ‘suicide attackers’
One Hongkonger is among 100 people wounded in the van attack on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas tourist strip, with Islamic State claiming responsibility
Five apparent terrorists wearing suicide belts have been shot dead by police in Cambrils in southern Spain, apparently foiling a second ram-raid terrorist attack just hours after 13 pedestrians were killed in Barcelona when a van mowed them down on the city’s iconic Las Ramblas avenue.
Local media reported that the Cambrils suspects crashed into a police car and ran over civilians late on Thursday, before police shot the attackers, one of whom was brandishing a knife. Five civilians and one officer were injured. One of the injured, a woman, died on Friday, while another is still in serious condition.
The police force in Cambrils said it was working on the theory that the suspects were linked to the van attack late Thursday afternoon on Las Ramblas that killed 13 people and wounded about 100. A manhunt is underway for that driver, although two other suspects were arrested, including Maghrebi Driss Oukabir, who allegedly hired the van.
A Hong Kong woman was injured on Las Ramblas, the Chinese consulate general in Barcelona said. No other Chinese nationals were reported hurt in the attack, it said.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said the Hong Kong tourist had been treated for a leg injury.
In Cambrils, “the alleged terrorists were in an Audi A3 and apparently knocked down several people before coming across a police patrol and a shoot-out ensued,” said a spokesman for the regional government of Catalonia.
Markel Artabe, a 20-year-old restaurant worker, said he was on the seaside promenade when he heard what he initially thought were fireworks, but soon realised were gunshots.
He said he saw someone lying on the ground “with a gunshot in the head”. The victim’s friends were crying out “help”, he added.
Joan Marc Serra Salinas, a 21-year-old waiter, said he heard many gunshots.
“And shouting. And more shouting. I jumped onto the beach and didn’t move,” he said.
Police said they were “working on the hypothesis that the terrorists shot dead in Cambrils could be linked to what happened in Barcelona”.
An explosion on Wednesday in the town of Alcanar, some 200km south of Barcelona, in which one person was killed, was also believed to be a related incident, police said.
Josep Lluis Trapero of the regional police of Catalonia said police suspected those in the house were “preparing an explosive device.”
A complex investigation and manhunt was still unfolding across Spain as police followed multiple leads in the jurisdictions where the three incidents occurred.
In Barcelona, witnesses said the white van used in the attack zigzagged down the city's busiest tourist avenue, mowing down pedestrians and leaving bodies strewn across the ground before the attacker fled on foot.
Interior Department chief Joaquim Forn said the death toll could increase since at least 15 of the 100 people thought to have been injured in the attack were hurt badly.
Senior police official Josep Lluis Trapero said the van drove up onto a sidewalk as it swerved among pedestrians in a crowded area, and it was “clearly a terror attack intended to kill as many people as possible.”
— Joaquim Forn (@quimforn) August 17, 2017
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said.
“The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states,” the agency said, referring to a United States-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.
If the involvement of Islamist militants 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.
The famous Las Ramblas boulevard is normally thronged with tourists and street performers until well into the night.
The area around the incident was cordoned off, with several ambulances and police vehicles on the scene. The van used in the attack was towed away.
“All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids.
“Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere. Then the whole street started getting pushed back,” an eyewitness said.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who cut short his holiday to travel to Barcelona, announced three days of official mourning and launched a staunch defence of democratic values.
“We are not only united in mourning. We are above all united in the resolute will to defeat those who want to take away our values and our way of life,” he said.
Vehicles have been used in several terror attacks in Europe in recent years, including a jihadist massacre that claimed 86 lives in the French Riviera city of Nice.
Spain had previously been spared the kind of extremist violence that has occurred in nearby France, Belgium and Germany.
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But it was hit by what is still Europe’s deadliest jihadist attack in March 2004, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by al Qaeda-inspired extremists.
The Nice onslaught in July last year and other similar attacks were claimed by Islamic State group.
In July 2015, a hooded attacker opened fire outside a hotel in downtown Barcelona near Las Ramblas, leaving two people injured, police said.
One person was struck by bullets while the other was hurt as they tried to flee the gunman, who fled the scene. No suspected motive for the attack was given.Spain has emerged as a potential target for jihadists, with extremist websites mentioning it for historical reasons, since much of its territory was once under Muslim rule.
Generally, authorities in Spain, the world’s third largest tourism destination, remain discreet on the terror threat.
But they publicise every arrest of alleged jihadists, most of them detained for propaganda, recruitment for extremist groups or “glorifying terrorism.”
According to the interior ministry, more than 180 “jihadist terrorists” have been arrested since June 2015 when Spain raised the terror alert level to four out of a maximum of five, in domestic and foreign operations.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok and Bloomberg