Spain terror cell planned Barcelona bombing rampage

After 13 die in Las Ramblas, further Catalan atrocity only thwarted by accidental detonation of explosives, say police

The terrorist cell which killed 14 people in Catalonia on Thursday was planning to mount a bombing attack in Barcelona that was only abandoned when they accidentally blew up the house where they were stockpiling explosives.

Thirteen people were killed and more than 130 injured after a white Fiat van ploughed along Las Ramblas in the Catalan capital on Thursday. Eight hours later, a Spanish woman was killed and six people were hurt after a car thought to be carrying five members of the same cell ran down pedestrians in the coastal town of Cambrils. All five terrorists were shot dead by police.

Reports on Friday afternoon suggested that the driver of the van used in the Las Ramblas attack, who had been hunted by police, was among those killed in Cambrils, but police later suggested he may still be on the run.

Despite the carnage and chaos wrought, Catalan police said the cell had apparently been preparing a far bigger attack in Barcelona.

Josep Lluís Trapero, a major with the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, said that the gang had been gathering butane gas canisters at a house in the small town of Alcanar, 120 miles south of Barcelona. However something went wrong and the building exploded on Wednesday night, killing two people and wounding 16.

How the Spanish attacks unfolded

“The explosion in Alcanar meant they no longer had the necessary material to plan larger-scale attacks in Barcelona,” said Trapero. “They were probably trying to carry out a different kind of attack.

The lack of bombing capacity is thought to have led the cell to use two vans they had hired – possibly with the idea of loading them with the gas canisters – in the kind of pedestrian ramming attacks seen in Nice, Berlin and London.

One was abandoned on Las Ramblas. A second van, which was found later in the town of Vic, 50 miles north of Barcelona, is believed to have been intended as a getaway vehicle. Reports suggested the gang might have initially attempted to hire a much bigger truck, but did not possess the correct documentation.

Police have arrested four men – three Moroccan citizens and one Spanish citizen, aged 21, 27, 28 and 34.

On Friday night they named the five shot dead in Cambrils, who included Moussa Oukabir, 17, who had been reported to be the driver in the Ramblas attack. The others killed were El Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, 19, Said Aallaa, 19, Omar Hychami, 21, and Mohamed Hychami, 24. All were listed as born in Morocco.

Police are still hunting Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, who they now suspect may have been the van driver in Barcelona, along with two other unnamed suspects. They are also seeking a white Renault Kangoo vehicle believed to have been rented by the suspects and which could have crossed the border into France, according to French media reports.

Oukabir, Hychami and Abouyaaqoub are though to be from the small town of Ripoll in Catalonia, while Aallaa is from the nearby village of Ribes de Freser.

Javier Zaragoza, the chief prosecutor of the Audiencia Nacional, which deals with terrorism cases, said the attackers did not appear to have previous links to jihadism.

“As far as we know, there was no previous investigation that might have identified them,” he told the Cadena Ser radio station. “Zero risk doesn’t exist when it comes to these things. The anti-terror police services have done really good work for years and various attacks have been prevented.”

Moussa Oukabir’s older brother Driss was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of hiring the van used in the attack. He has denied any involvement and is thought to have told the police that his identity documents were stolen before they were used to rent the vehicle.

Jordi Munell, the mayor of Ripoll, said the town was in a state of shock following the events of Thursday and Friday. “Ripoll is the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else,” he said. “We don’t understand how people we’ve been living side by side with could be involved in terrorism, and nor do their families. These are people that people have been to school with and played football with.”

Little is known about Moussa Oukabir. However, attention has already focused on comments he made on the social media site Kiwi. Asked what he would do on his first day if he became absolute ruler of the world, he replied: “Kill the unbelievers and leave only Muslims who follow their religion.” Asked in which country he would never contemplate living, he answered: “The Vatican.”

The Cambrils attack came at the end of a day of violence along the Catalan coast, which the police described as the work of a terrorist cell determined to “kill as many people as possible”.

Map of attacks

The attackers’ plans to use a car, knives, machetes and axes to kill as many people as possible were thwarted after they crashed into a police car. A single officer is reported to have shot dead four of the attackers while another killed the remaining terrorist a few minutes later.

Fitzroy Davies, from Wolverhampton, was in Cambrils and saw one of the attackers being shot by police. He told the BBC that he had seen people running into the bar where he was as the assault unfolded.

“This guy came running up the road and was shouting something. I didn’t know what it was, so we said, ‘call the police,’” he said. “Within 30 seconds the police were already there, jumped out of the car, started shouting at the guy; the guy was then saying something else again. And then they – ‘pop, pop’ – did a couple of shots and he fell down.

“He stood back up and then he stepped over the fence and he started, he was taunting, smiling and he carried on walking to the police, and then they gave it to him again, a couple more shots and then he fell to the ground.”

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Las Ramblas attack, saying on a website: “Terror is filling the crusaders’ hearts in the land of Andalusia.” The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said the whole country stood in solidarity with Barcelona, blaming “jihadi terrorism”.

At midday local time on Friday thousands of people gathered in Barcelona’s main square for a minute’s silence to remember the dead. Among those in attendance were King Felipe of Spain, Rajoy, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president, and Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona.

At the end of the minute’s silence, the crowd broke into applause and chanted “No tinc por” (“I am not afraid”).

Authorities said on Friday night that 59 people injured in the attacks were still in hospital, with 15 in a critical condition and 25 in a serious condition.

The mayor of the French city of Nice – where dozens of people were murdered just over a year ago by an attacker driving a truck – said that he would meet his European counterparts next month to determine what can be done to improve security after the Barcelona attack.

Eighty-six people were killed in the jihadist attack in the French Riviera city, the first of several similar incidents in Europe.

“I am convinced that life will prevail over death and that we will triumph over barbarism and terror,” Christian Estrosi told reporters after an event to honour those killed in Catalonia.

He said the mayors of several cities would meet in Nice at the end of September and discuss the issue with Julian King, the European commissioner in charge of security issues.

Estosi said they would talk about the best ways to improve the situation and review national and European legislation and proposals that were at times too restrictive.

“We won’t win the war with the rules of peace,” Estrosi added.


Giles Tremlett in Cambrils, Sam Jones in London and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Las Ramblas cries but it is alive’: Barcelona recovers historic defiance
Spain’s second city mourns the victims as the shock sinks in that the Catalan capital has joined the list of terrorism targets in Europe

Jonathan Watts

19, Aug, 2017 @4:26 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on attacks in Spain: fighting terror means protecting freedom | Editorial
Editorial: Terrorism will win unless defending freedom is part of the answer


18, Aug, 2017 @5:58 PM

Article image
Timeline of terror in Spain: how Barcelona and Cambrils attacks unfolded
Three fatal incidents believed to be linked to terrorism occur over a 24-hour period and a 190-mile stretch of north-east Spain

Naaman Zhou

18, Aug, 2017 @3:54 PM

Article image
Police extend hunt for Barcelona attack suspect across Europe
Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, continues to elude police despite 800 checkpoints and increase in anti-terrorism officers

Jonathan Watts and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

21, Aug, 2017 @8:01 AM

Article image
Reflections on the Barcelona attacks | Letters
Letters: Societies will only thrive if the ruling faith makes place for people of other faiths


22, Aug, 2017 @5:31 PM

Article image
Solidarity must extend far beyond the victims of terror | Editorial
Editorial: The terrorists want to destroy universal values of freedom and tolerance. If Europe fails refugees it is a kind of victory for them


20, Aug, 2017 @7:01 PM

Article image
Extremism is surging. To beat it, we need young hearts and minds | Scott Atran
Barcelona shows there is no clash of civilisations but a crisis of cultures, writes the anthropologist Scott Atran

Scott Atran

20, Aug, 2017 @6:38 PM

Article image
Barcelona is Europe’s seventh vehicle attack in a year. What can be done? | Simon Jenkins
We must work out how to retain a balance between defacing cities and averting risk, writes Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins

18, Aug, 2017 @9:45 AM

Article image
Barcelona mourns as police step up hunt for driver of van
Younes Abouyaaqoub, understood to be chief suspect in Las Ramblas attack, is thought to be key member of 12-strong jihadist cell

Jonathan Watts, Giles Tremlett and Stephen Burgen

19, Aug, 2017 @6:03 PM

Article image
Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: why was Spain targeted by terrorists?
Country has been on its second highest alert since 2015, and Catalonia has a reputation as a meeting place for radicals

Sam Jones and Giles Tremlett in Cambrils

18, Aug, 2017 @2:37 PM