Fourth person arrested as Spain reels from twin attacks

Arrest reportedly in Ripoll; sources say terror cell could be as large as 12, including some who traveled to Syria

People gather to leave tributes on August 18, 2017 for the victims at the spot where a van ploughed into the crowd on August 17, 2017, killing 13 people and injuring over 100, on the Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, Spain. (AFP/Josep Lago)
People gather to leave tributes on August 18, 2017 for the victims at the spot where a van ploughed into the crowd on August 17, 2017, killing 13 people and injuring over 100, on the Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, Spain. (AFP/Josep Lago)

BARCELONA — Catalan police said Friday they have arrested a fourth person in connection with the attacks in Barcelona and the resort of Cambrils that killed at least 14 people.

Police made the announcement on Twitter without providing further details. Barcelona’s SER radio reported that the arrest was made in Ripoll, where two others were arrested, including, reportedly, the brother of the key suspect.

Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona killed at least 13 people, and one woman was killed early Friday in Cambrils when a car ploughed into pedestrians there.

Police fatally shot five suspects in Cambrils. Officials say the van driver is still on the run. Unconfirmed media reports named the driver as Moussa Oukabir, 17.

His brother Driss Oukabir, of Moroccan origin, was named by Spanish media as one of the two people detained in Ripoll.

Police said two suspects arrested Thursday, including one from Alcanar, 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.

SER reported that officials believe the cell could contain as many as 12 people, including some who have traveled to Syria.

Spanish policemen stand guard as tourists pass by with their suitcases on the Rambla boulevard on August 18, 2017 a day after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing 13 persons and injuring over 100 on the Rambla in Barcelona. (AFP PHOTO / Pascal GUYOT)
Spanish policemen stand guard as tourists pass by with their suitcases on the Las Ramblas Boulevard on August 18, 2017, a day after a van ploughed into the crowd. (AFP/ Pascal Guyot)

“There could be more people in Ripoll connected to the group,” Catalonia Interior Minister Joaquim 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.

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.

A person is helped by Spanish policemen and two men after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing at least 13 people and injuring around 100 others on the Rambla in Barcelona on August 17, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Nicolas CARVALHO OCHOA)
A person is helped by Spanish policemen and two men after a van ploughed into the crowd on the Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona on August 17, 2017. (AFP/Nicolas Carvalho Ochoa)

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.

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“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 plowed through a police checkpoint leaving Barelona 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.

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.

“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.

The Islamic State group said 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 from Syria and Iraq.

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, August 18, 2017. (AFP/Javier Soriano)

Citing police sources, Spain’s RTVE as well as El Pais and TV3 identified the brother, Moussa Oukabir, as the suspected driver of the van. Forn declined to comment on questions about him Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

Media outlets ran photographs of Driss 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, the Catalan interior minister, told SER Radio. “We had local police on the scene, but we were unable to shoot him, as the Ramblas were packed with people.”

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.”

After the afternoon attack, 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.

By Friday morning, the promenade had reopened to the public, albeit under heavy surveillance and an unusual quiet.

Newsstands were open selling papers and souvenirs near Plaza de Catalunya, but the iconic flower shops that line the promenade remained shuttered. Vendors who typically sell counterfeit sneakers and soccer jerseys displayed on white sheets were nowhere to be found.

“We all feel fine, right?” said Tara Lanza, a New York tourist who arrived in Barcelona even after hearing of the attack.

“It’s sad,” John Lanza said, as the family stood outside the gated La Boqueria market. “You can tell it’s obviously quieter than it usually is, but I think people are trying to get on with their lives.”

At noon Friday, a minute of silence honoring the victims was observed at the Placa Catalunya, near the top of the Ramblas where the van attack started. Rajoy declared three days of national mourning.

Since the Madrid train bombings, the only deadly attacks had been bombings claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA that killed five people over the past decade. It declared a cease-fire in 2011.

“Unfortunately, Spaniards know the absurd and irrational pain that terrorism causes. We have received blows like this in recent years, but we also that terrorists can be beaten,” Rajoy said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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