Barcelona terrorist attack: Two arrested as 13 dead and over 100 injured

Catalonia declares three days of mourning as authorities form crisis cabinet to deal with situation

A van ploughed into crowds in the heart of Barcelona on Thursday, August 17th and Spanish media reported at least 13 people were killed, in what police said they were treating as a terrorist attack. Video: Reuters

 

A van ploughed into dozens of people in central Barcelona on Thursday, killing at least 13 and injuring more than 100 in what the Spanish authorities said was a terrorist attack.

The authorities said two suspects had been arrested but neither was the van driver. It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved. A Catalan police official said the two suspects in custody were a Spanish national from Melilla and a Moroccan.

The white Fiat left the road around the central Plaça de Catalunya square at about 5pm local time (4pm Irish time) and struck pedestrians on the Ramblas boulevard.

“It’s tragic, I saw lots of people on the ground, run over and people were running and crying,” an employee of the nearby Lloret Ramblas hotel, named as Rebeca, told La Vanguardia newspaper. “The van went down the middle, running over everything.”

The driver of the van did not appear to be armed, a Catalan police official told a news conference.

The van drove for several hundred metres down Las Ramblas, which is one of Barcelona’s most popular draws for tourists, before the driver got out and fled on foot.

Senior police official Josep Lluis Trapero said the attack van drove on to the pavement, swerving among pedestrians in a crowded area, and was “clearly a terror attack intended to kill as many people as possible”.

Misty Barker, an Irish freelance writer who works near the site of the attack, said she “saw people lying on the side of Las Ramblas. There was a girl with blood all over her, clearly unconscious, and a guy beside her who had broken bones and again blood all over him. It was shocking.”

The response of the police and medical services was rapid and the area around where the attack took place was quickly evacuated as medics treated victims. Nearby rail and underground metro stations were closed down.

Separately, police said that the van attack appeared to be linked to an explosion at a house in Alcanar in the early hours of Thursday in which one person died and another was injured. The official also said there was no evidence there would be another attack.

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president has declared three days of mourning for the region.

Reported shootings

As the death and injury toll rose throughout the evening, it was not entirely clear what exactly happened after the attack.

Local media reported that a driver had jumped a police roadblock in the city, before being intercepted and killed in a shoot-out with officers. It was not immediately confirmed whether there was a connection between the two incidents.

Media also reported that police had arrested a suspect named Driss Oukabir, who was believed to have rented the vehicle used in the attack. The passport of a Spanish citizen, of Moroccan origin, was found at the scene. But El Pais newspaper said Oukabir had denied being involved in the attack and told police that his documents had been stolen.

A handout photo made available by Spanish National Police shows Maghrebi Driss Oukabir, alleged to have rented the van which was used to crashed into pedestrians in Las Ramblas
A handout photo made available by Spanish National Police shows Maghrebi Driss Oukabir, alleged to have rented the van which was used to crashed into pedestrians in Las Ramblas

A second van was found in the nearby city of Vic. The Vic authorities said they suspected it was connected to the attack, possibly as an escape vehicle.

There was further confusion as reports emerged that two men had barricaded themselves into a restaurant just off the Ramblas, although the authorities later dismissed those reports.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy travelled to the Catalan capital. “The terrorists will never defeat a united people who love freedom in the face of barbarity,” he tweeted. “All of Spain is with the victims and families.”

Catalan regional authorities formed a crisis cabinet to deal with the situation with the national police, the Catalan police and the civil guard all involved.

The royal family also issued a tweet, saying: “They are murderers, simply criminals who will not terrorise us. All of Spain is Barcelona. The Ramblas will belong to everyone again.”

International reaction

President Michael D Higgins said the solidarity of the Irish people was with those in Barcelona and offered his condolences to the Spanish ambassador to Ireland.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the tragic loss of life and the injuries that have taken place in Barcelona today. Barcelona has a long history of hospitality and has over the years received so many people from around the world,” Mr Higgins said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: “I am appalled by the incident in Barcelona this afternoon. On behalf of the Irish government, I wish to convey our condolences and solidarity with the people of Spain at this time.” In statement the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is monitoring developments closely. It said Irish citizens should follow the advise of local authorities. Anyone with concerns for the safety of loved ones in Barcelona can contact the Consular assistance team on 01-4082000 or the Irish Embassy in Madrid on +34 914364093.

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

British prime minister Theresa May said in a written statement: “I am sickened by the senseless loss of life in Barcelona today. Following the attacks in Manchester and London, Spain stood alongside the British people. Tonight, Britain stands with Spain against the evil of terrorism.”

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.”

A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis was praying for the victims and wanted to express his closeness to all Spanish people, especially the victims and their families.

A statement issued by the Spanish Muslim association expressed “condolences for the families of the victims and solidarity with the people of Barcelona and Spain” as messages of support poured in from across Spain and the world.

Islamic State

Vehicles have been used to carry out similar attacks across Europe since the summer of 2016, killing people in Nice, London, Berlin and Stockholm.

This was the first terrorist attack in Spain since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, which killed 191 people. Since then, the security forces have clamped down on suspected jihadist activity, making dozens of arrests, and tightening anti-terror co-operation with their neighbour Morocco.

Although Islamic State issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack, the authorities did not verify that claim.

Its Amaq news agency said, “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 US-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.

Top travel destination

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. Barcelona is the capital of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, which plans to hold a popular vote on 1st October on whether it should secede from Spain. It is in dispute with the central government, which says the vote cannot go ahead because it is unconstitutional.

Following the attack, security staff at Barcelona airport suspended a strike that started in early August.”

Additional reporting: Agencies