A white van jumped the sidewalk in the northern Spanish city of Barcelona Thursday, killing 13 people and injuring dozens, in what police confirmed was a terror attack.
Police said the driver fled on foot after the van came to a standstill after crashing into a kiosk. Spain’s El Pais newspaper, citing police sources, said he and a second perpetrator of the attack were holed up in a bar after the attack.
The Civil Guard said the van was rented by a man named as Driss Oukabir in the municipality of Santa Perpetua de la Mogada, near Barcelona, El Pais reported. He was later apprehended as a suspect.
Police dispelled earlier reports of a hostage situation.
In a photograph shown by public broadcaster RTVE, three people were lying on the ground in the historic Las Ramblas district and were apparently being helped by police and others.
— Yazmin Jalil (@YazminJalil) August 17, 2017
A regional government source confirmed that at least two people were killed. Later, the president of Spain’s Catalonia region said 12 people were confirmed dead and at least 80 have been hospitalized. Local reports, however, put the death toll at 13.
Police cordoned off the broad street and shut down its stores. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of the emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene.
Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrianized path in the center of the street, but cars can travel on either side.
The commercial vehicle drove at high speed into a crowd in the popular tourist area. The incident took place adjacent to the Maccabi kosher restaurant, although there were no indications that it targeted Israelis or Jews, or that any Israelis were wounded in the attack.
The area is popular with Israeli tourists.
Barak Ben Gal, an Israeli tour guide in Barcelona who witnessed the ramming, told Channel 2, “People dropped to the ground, there were wounded. It was dozens. The area is completely evacuated. Police are everywhere. There are helicopters in the air.”
He added, “I’ve lived here 14 years, it’s the first time I’ve seen something like this.”
Another witness said that within minutes police and emergency services arrived, cleared the streets and closed the stores. He said that people had taken refuge in nearby stores.
Catalan police tweeted, “There has just been a massive trampling on the Ramblas in Barcelona by a person with a van. There are injured.”
Rabbi Meir Bar-Hen, Barcelona’s chief rabbi, told Channel 2 news in a telephone interview that he was informed by police that the terror attack was not directed at Jews.
He said he plans to cancel community activities and will head to Las Ramblas to see if his services are needed to help with the dead or wounded.
This photo from Barcelona appears to show the aftermath of today's incident; the kosher restaurant, Maccabi, is visible on the right. pic.twitter.com/yWlOZA8gTU
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) August 17, 2017
Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.
“I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified,” he said.
He said there was a bang — possibly from someone rolling down a store shutter — and more people ran by. Then police arrived and pushed everyone a full block away. Even people leaning out of doors were being told to go back inside, he said.
Fleming said regular police had their guns drawn and riot police were at the end of his block, which was now deserted.
“It’s just kind of a tense situation,” Fleming said. “Clearly people were scared.”
Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century place on Las Ramblas that houses government offices and a tourism information center, said the van passed right in front of the building.
“We saw everything. People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside,” she said.
BARCELONA POLICE SEARCHING FOR TERRORIST IN VAIN pic.twitter.com/UnxgcvJwne
— Joseph I. Vega (@VegaJosephIsaac) August 17, 2017
Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.
The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked trick to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.
There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March, and four men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge and rampaged with knives nearby, killing eight, in June.
A man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.