Manhunt intensifies for Spain van attacker as death toll rises to 14
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Manhunt intensifies for Spain van attacker as death toll rises to 14

Tourist promenade that saw deadly terror in Barcelona reopens as driver in deadly assault reportedly named; officials say large group may be behind attacks; 1 Israeli still unaccounted for

Armed police officers patrol a deserted street in Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, August 18, 2017. (AP/Manu Fernandez)
Armed police officers patrol a deserted street in Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, August 18, 2017. (AP/Manu Fernandez)

Spanish authorities said a large terror cell carried out separate vehicular attacks Thursday and Friday, as officers hunted for the driver of the van that mowed down people in Barcelona, amid reports he was named as the brother of a suspect already in custody.

Authorities said 13 people were killed when a white van drove up on a sidewalk on Barcelona’s popular Las Ramblas Boulevard, mowing down people and spreading carnage Thursday afternoon.

Over 100 people were injured.

Hours later, an Audi sedan ran into pedestrians and police in the resort city of Cambrils, killing one person and injuring at least five others.

Catalan officials announced the death of a woman hit in Cambrils Friday afternoon, raising the total death toll to 14.

Authorities said the back-to-back vehicle attacks — as well as an explosion earlier this week elsewhere in Catalonia — were connected and the work of a large terrorist group.

Three people were arrested, but the driver of the van used in the Barcelona attack remained at large as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of the latest European rampage claimed by the Islamic State group.

Five people wearing fake bomb belts were shot and killed by police during the Cambrils attack, officials said.

Catalonia’s interior minister, Joaquim Forn, told local radio RAC1 the Cambrils attack “follows the same trail. There is a connection.”

He told Onda Cero radio that the Cambrils and Barcelona attacks were being investigated together, as well as a Wednesday night explosion in the town of Alcanar in which one person was killed.

A policeman stands by a car involved in a terrorist attack in Cambrils, a city 120 kilometers south of Barcelona, on August 18, 2017. (AFP/LLUIS GENE)
A policeman stands by a car involved in a terrorist attack in Cambrils, Spain, on August 18, 2017. (AFP/Lluis Gene)

“We are not talking about a group of one or two people, but rather a numerous group,” he said. He added that the Alcanar explosion had been caused by butane tanks stored in a house, and that firefighters and police responding to the blast had been injured.

Forn also suggested a possible connection to an incident Thursday in which the driver of a Ford Focus ploughed through a police checkpoint leaving Barcelona after the attack, injuring two police officers. The driver was killed. Police initially said there was no connection to the Barcelona carnage, but Forn said an investigation was under way.

“There is a possibility (of a connection), but it is not confirmed,” he said.

According to reports, officials think the cell could have included eight people. Two were arrested in Ripoll, including one Friday morning, and another one in Alcanar.

“There could be more people in Ripoll connected to the group,” Forn told TV3 television, adding that police were focusing their investigation on identifying the five dead in Cambrils as well as the driver of the Barcelona van.

Spanish policemen stand guard on the Rambla boulevard in Barcelona on August 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO)
Spanish policemen stand guard on the Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona on August 18, 2017. (AFP/Javier Soriano)

 

Spanish media reported that Moussa Oukabir, 17, a resident of Barcelona, was wanted as the main suspect. His brother Driss Oukabir, of Moroccan origin, was named by Spanish media as one of the two people detained in Ripoll.

Police said the two suspects arrested Thursday were a Spanish national from Melilla, a Spanish-run Mediterranean seafront enclave in North Africa, and the other a Moroccan.

Spanish public broadcaster RTVE said Driss Oukabir went to police in Ripoll to report that his identity documents had been stolen. Various Spanish media said the IDs with his name were found in the attack van and that he claimed his brother might have stolen them.

Driss Oubakir, a suspect in Barcelona terror attack on August 17, 2017. (Spanish National Police handout)
Driss Oukabir, a suspect in the Barcelona terror attack on August 17, 2017. (Spanish National Police handout)

Media outlets ran photographs of Oukabir they said police had issued to identify one of the suspects. The regional police told The Associated Press that they had not distributed the photograph. They refused to say if he was one of the two detained.

The driver, however, remained at large.

“We don’t know if the driver is still in Barcelona or not, or what direction he fled in,” Forn told SER Radio. “We had local police on the scene, but we were unable to shoot him, as the Ramblas was packed with people.”

Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont warned the suspect could still potentially be dangerous.

Asked on Spanish radio whether an alleged “terrorist” was still at large and dangerous, he responded: “On the run, yes. As to whether he is capable of harm, we don’t know at the moment.”

But he warned that “these types of people have already demonstrated that they have the will to harm, whatever happens.”

The Barcelona attack at the peak of Spain’s tourist season left victims sprawled across the street, spattered with blood and writhing in pain from broken limbs. Others were ushered inside shops by officers with their guns drawn; or fled in panic, screaming and carrying young children in their arms.

A policeman accompanies clients of a store outside a cordoned off area after a van plowed into the crowd, on August 17, 2017. (LLUIS GENE / AFP)
A policeman accompanies clients of a store outside a cordoned-off area after a van ploughed into the crowd, on August 17, 2017. (AFP/Lluis Gene)

Officials said victims hailed from 34 countries, including a number of French nationals and Germans. Israeli officials said one Israeli remained unaccounted for, and they did not know of any Israelis who had been among the casualties.

“It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible,” Josep Lluis Trapero, a senior police official for Spain’s Catalonia region, told reporters late Thursday.

Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona’s busiest streets, lined with shops and restaurants and normally packed with tourists and street performers until well into the night.

“When it happened I ran out and saw the damage,” local shop worker Xavi Perez told AFP.

An injured person is treated in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and killing and injuring several people. (AP Photo/Oriol Duran)
An injured person is treated after a white van jumped the sidewalk in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, August 17, 2017. (AP/Oriol Duran)

“There were bodies on the ground with people crowding round them. People were crying. There were lots of foreigners.”

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, saying in a statement on its Aamaq news agency that the attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State” in response to the extremist group’s calls for followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive it out from Syria and Iraq.

Cambrils Mayor Cami Mendoza said the town had taken precautions after the Barcelona attack, but that the suspects had centered their assault early Friday on the narrow path to Cambrils’s boardwalk, which is usually packed with locals and tourists late into the evening.

After the afternoon attack in Barcelona, Las Ramblas went into lockdown. Swarms of officers brandishing hand guns and automatic weapons launched a manhunt in the downtown district, ordering stores and cafes and public transport to shut down.

People stand next to flowers, candles and other items set up on the Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona as they pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona attack on August 18, 2017. (AFP/PASCAL GUYOT)
People stand next to flowers, candles and other items set up on the Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona as they pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona attack on August 18, 2017. (AFP/Pascal Guyot)

By Friday morning, the promenade had reopened to the public, and neighbors and tourist were allowed past police lines to go back to their homes and hotels. The city center remained under heavy surveillance.

At noon Friday, a minute of silence honoring the victims was observed at the Plaza Catalunya, near the top of the Ramblas where the van attack started.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the killings a “savage terrorist attack” and said Spaniards “are not just united in mourning, but especially in the firm determination to beat those who want to rob us of our values and our way of life.”

Rajoy declared three days of national mourning.

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