‘A mastermind has brainwashed them’: Family of Barcelona terror suspect speak out

Family of missing suspect Younes Abouyaaquob believe attackers were radicalised by local imam

The family of the missing man who police believe may have killed 13 people by driving a van into pedestrians in central Barcelona on Thursday have spoken out, blaming his radicalisation on a local imam. Video: Reuters

 

The family of the missing man who police believe may have killed 13 people by driving a van into pedestrians in central Barcelona on Thursday have spoken out, blaming his radicalisation on a local imam.

There has been confusion surrounding the fate of Younes Abouyaaquob (22), who police believe could be the as-yet-unidentified driver of the van. Despite some media reports that Mr Abouyaaquob had been killed by police, authorities have said they are still searching for him.

His mother, Hann Ghanim, appeared before the press in Ripoll on Saturday afternoon, visibly distraught and speaking through a cousin, Fatima Abouyaaquob, who translated her comments into Spanish and Catalan.

“I want him to come and see me, to stop doing this, I’m not to blame for this, I would prefer him to be in jail than dead,” Ms Ghanim said, weeping as she spoke.

Seven young men from Ripoll have been implicated in the Barcelona attack and the similar car attack in the town of Cambrils several hours later which killed one person. Police shot dead the five men who carried out that second attack, among them, reportedly Moussa Oukabir (17), also from Ripoll.

“They are kids, they are very young and we believe that there has been a mastermind who has brainwashed them,” Ms Abouyaaquob said. “It’s too much all this, that there should be 17 year-old kids who went to school, study, who spent their lives here and we knew them - we don’t understand a thing.”

She added: “I don’t believe these kids are the problem. I think the problem is what they are told, what they are taught. I’d tell him to hand himself in and tell the truth.”

“We’ve heard that he’s dead and we’ve heard he’s alive, we don’t know,” she said.

Ms Abouyaaquob said the family believed a local imam, whose flat in Ripoll was searched by police on Saturday, had radicalized the youngsters. There have been reports the imam may have been a casualty of a gas explosion in a house in the Catalan town of Alcanar on Thursday which killed at least one person. Police believe that property was used as a base for the terrorist cell and that its members had originally planned a bigger, bomb attack, but changed their plan after the explosion.

The Irish Times entered the imam’s small flat in Ripoll and spoke to his former flatmate, a fellow Moroccan. The man said he had only lived with the imam for a month and that he did not know the men involved in the terror attacks.

Hannan Kharchouch, a local Muslim woman, said she was worried that the town’s Moroccan community would now mistakenly be seen as radical.

“They’re kids who have made a mistake,” she told The Irish Times. “And I know it’s a very serious mistake, and they shouldn’t be forgiven, but we [MUSLIMS]shouldn’t be all seen in the same light, as terrorists.”