RIPOLL, Spain (AFP) — The alleged Barcelona attacker who was killed Monday grew up in a small Catalan town where he seemed “nicely integrated” like his younger brother who also died as part of the same terror cell, residents said.
Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was shot by police not far from Barcelona in northeastern Spain after a four-day manhunt for the man who allegedly drove a van through crowds in the popular Mediterranean city, killing 13.
He didn’t stop there, fleeing his vehicle on foot after Thursday’s attack, hijacking a car and stabbing its driver to make his getaway.
“I’m happy and sad all at once,” Hassan Azzidi, a Moroccan factory worker, said in the Catalan town of Ripoll where many members of the terror cell that planned the Barcelona attack and another car rampage in the seaside resort of Cambrils came from.
“This had to end, because we’re living as if in a war, but at the same time, someone brainwashed such a young boy, ” Azzidi said.
“Younes lived normally, he worked in a factory, he had everything…
“I don’t know how they manage to eat their brains.”
Police suspect an imam of radicalizing Abouyaaqoub, his younger brother Houssein and nine other young men.
The imam Abdelbaki Es Satty died in an explosion believed to have been accidentally detonated by the suspects themselves in their bomb factory in the seaside town of Alcanar, also in Catalonia.
Other suspects have either been killed by police or detained.
Like his elder brother, Houssein Abouyaaqoub is believed to have been shot dead by police.
He and four others drove their car into pedestrians in Cambrils early Friday morning, just hours after the Barcelona attack. One of them got out and stabbed a woman, who later died.
Since last week’s twin attacks, Ripoll — which has a population of 11,000, five percent of whom are Moroccan — is under shock.
In the Esperanza Moroccan cafeteria, card players — refusing to be named — say they feel “betrayed by the imam,” a man in his forties described as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who influenced the boys.
Nuria Perpinya, who until two years ago worked on a programme to combat social exclusion, had helped some of these “children” do their homework.
And despite the carnage they caused, she has only “good memories” of “normal boys, completely integrated” in Catalan life — words echoed by many others in Ripoll.
In the Moroccan town of M’rirt, meanwhile, relatives of Abouyaaqoub accused the imam of radicalising the young man as well as his brother Houssein.
Younes used to visit his elderly grandfather every summer in the modest family home where he was born before leaving for Ripoll with his parents.
But the grandfather told AFP that “over the last two years, Younes and Houssein began to radicalise under the influence of this imam.”
And the day of the attack, Younes showed steely determination.
After ploughing into people at great speed in Barcelona, he got out of the van, went through the city’s most famous food market La Boqueria and walked six kilometers for an hour and a half until he got to the university district.
There he hijacked a car, stabbed its 34-year-old driver Pau Perez, threw his body in the back seat before driving away.
At a police checkpoint, he sped through, injuring a police officer, before abandoning the car and disappearing.
He only re-emerged on Monday, when several people spotted him, reported it to the police, who eventually shot him dead.