Two men were arrested following Thursday’s car ramming in a crowded Barcelona tourist spot and a third was killed dead following a shootout with police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Police said that one man was arrested near the scene of the terror attack, in which a white commercial van plowed into a pedestrian area of the historic Las Ramblas boulevard. According to Spanish media reports, the second was arrested in Manlleu, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Barcelona.
Catelonian police said a third man died after attempting to ram police officers with his car at a barrier set up some three kilometers from the first attack. Local media reported that it was unclear whether the man had been shot by police or taken his own life.
Islamic State claimed it was behind the attack via its official Amaq news site.
— SITE Intel Group (@siteintelgroup) August 17, 2017
In a statement the terror group 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.”
In a press conference, Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia, said that 12 people had died in the attack and 80 treated in hospital, 15 of whom were in serious condition. Puigdemont also confirmed that two people had been arrested in connection with the attack.
Local reports, however, put the death toll at 13.
Catalan police issued a photo of a suspect, named as Driss Oubakir, who allegedly rented the vehicle used in the attack. It was not immediately confirmed that he was the man arrested near the scene of the attack. Local media said Oubakir was born in Morocco, but is a Spanish citizen.
The police force for Spain’s Catalonia region said it was treating the man “as a terrorist.”
Local news station El Pais reported that a Spanish passport was found inside the van used in the attack. The Civil Guard said the van was rented by Oukabir in the municipality of Santa Perpetua de la Mogada, near Barcelona.
Police denied earlier reports that officers had a suspect surrounded in a bar and dispelled earlier reports of a hostage situation. “There is nobody held up in any bar in the center of Barcelona. We have arrested one man and we are treating him as a terrorist,” police said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the region’s interior minister called on residents to remain indoors and avoid unnecessary travel while the investigation continues.
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.
Police cordoned off the broad street and shut down its stores in the immediate wake of the attack. 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.
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.”
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 would 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.
Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple terror attacks in Israel and also in Europe.
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.