Upping death toll to 15, police say Spain van attacker hijacked car
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Upping death toll to 15, police say Spain van attacker hijacked car

Authorities say Pau Perez, a 34-year-old man found stabbed dead in a Ford Focus, was killed by jihadist still at large

Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police, speaks alongside Interior Minister for the Catalan government Joaquim Forn (C) and Justice Minister of the Catalan government Carles Mundo at a press conference in Barcelona on August 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)
Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police, speaks alongside Interior Minister for the Catalan government Joaquim Forn (C) and Justice Minister of the Catalan government Carles Mundo at a press conference in Barcelona on August 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

Spanish authorities on Monday raised the death toll of last week’s terror attacks to 15, confirming that Pau Perez, a 34-year-old man found stabbed dead in a Ford Focus outside Barcelona on Friday, was killed by Younes Abouyaaqoub.

Abouyaaqoub, 22, is believed to be the last remaining member of a 12-man terror cell at large.

The police had fired at the car as it ran the checkpoint shortly after the Barcelona carnage, and later found Perez stabbed dead in the vehicle.

Investigators believe the victim was the owner of the car, which was hijacked by Abouyaaqoub to make his getaway after the Barcelona assault.

Spanish police warned Monday that Abouyaaqoub, the suspected driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona, was dangerous and likely armed, as a manhunt for the Moroccan national widened across Europe.

The other suspects have been killed by police or detained following last week’s attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils. The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the assaults, believed to be its first in Spain.

Describing Abouyaaqoub as around 1.80 meters (five feet, 11 inches) tall, police tweeted four photographs of the man with short black hair, including three pictures in which he was wearing a black and white striped T-shirt.

He is “dangerous and could be armed,” police in Catalonia said Monday, as officials also announced that they have identified all 15 victims in the assaults.

The 15 comprise six Spanish nationals, three Italians, two Portuguese, a Belgian, a Canadian, an American and a British-Australian, he added. Among them two are children, the Catalan regional government’s Justice Minister Carles Mundo said.

Spanish authorities were also officially notifying European police Monday of the identity of the suspect to enable the launch of a Europe-wide manhunt.

“We have to talk to European police to notify them of the identity because this person… is likely being sought in all European countries,” said Catalonia regional interior minister Joaquim Forn.

Imam’s influence

Investigators seeking to unravel the terror cell have homed in on the small border town of Ripoll, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.

Several of the suspects including Abouyaaqoub grew up or lived in the town.

A Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, has also come under scrutiny as he is believed to have radicalized youths in Ripoll.

Police raided more homes in Ripoll on Monday, Forn said.

Catalan police officers detain a suspect in Ripoll during a search linked to the deadly terror attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils, on August 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pau Barrena)
Catalan police officers detain a suspect in Ripoll during a search linked to the deadly terror attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils, on August 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pau Barrena)

Police said the imam had spent time in prison and had once been in contact with a suspect wanted on terrorism charges but was never charged with terror related incidents himself.

In Belgium, the mayor of the Vilvorde region told AFP that Satty spent time in the Brussels suburb of Machelen — a district next to the city’s airport — between January and March 2016.

On the other side of Brussels, the Molenbeek suburb has gained notoriety as a hotbed of international jihadists after the Brussels bombings in March 2016 and the Paris attacks in November 2015.

In the Moroccan town of M’rirt, relatives of Abouyaaqoub also accused the imam of radicalizing the young man as well as his brother Houssein.

“Over the last two years, Younes and Houssein began to radicalize under the influence of this imam,” their grandfather told AFP.

A neighbor close to the Abouyaaqoub family, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the imam “had recruited Moroccans of Ripoll and planned the attacks.”

But Ali Assid, president of the Annour Islamic community that runs the mosque in Ripoll where Satty was preaching, said the imam “never sent a radical message, all he preached was really Islam. If he is behind all that, there he must be showing us one face in the mosque and showing another face outside.”

A picture taken on August 19, 2017, shows a building (L) allegedly used as a mosque by imam Abdelbaki Es Satty in Ripoll, Spain. (AFP Photo/Pau Barrena)
A picture taken on August 19, 2017, shows a building (L) allegedly used as a mosque by imam Abdelbaki Es Satty in Ripoll, Spain. (AFP Photo/Pau Barrena)

Assid said Satty had parted ways with the mosque in late June after Ramadan, as he wanted a vacation of three months — a request that the group did not agree to.

The imam has been missing since Tuesday. On Saturday, police raided his apartment. They have raised the possibility that he died in an explosion on Wednesday evening at a house believed to be the suspects’ bomb factory, where police uncovered a massive cache of 120 gas canisters.

‘One or more attacks’

The suspected jihadists had been preparing bombs for “one or more attacks in Barcelona,” regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters, revealing that traces of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) — a homemade explosive that is an IS hallmark — had also been found.

The suspects accidentally caused an explosion at the house on the eve of Thursday’s attack in Barcelona — an error that likely forced them to modify their plans.

A police officer gestures as he blocks a street in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, following a terror attack in which a white van jumped the sidewalk in the city's historic Las Ramblas district. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A police officer gestures as he blocks a street in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, following a terror attack in which a white van jumped the sidewalk in the city’s historic Las Ramblas district. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Instead, they used a vehicle to smash into crowds on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard as it was thronged with tourists, killing 13 people and injuring about 100.

Several hours later, a similar attack in the seaside town of Cambrils left one woman dead. Police shot and killed the five attackers in Cambrils, some of whom were wearing fake explosive belts and carrying knives.

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