Irshad Salim — Spanish authorities intensified their manhunt on Friday for the van driver involved in the Barcelona terrorist attack that killed 15 people and left as many as 100 injured –some are in critical condition.
The casualties were among people of at least 34 nationalities (including an American citizen), underscoring the international draw of the cosmopolitan Las Ramblas area, which has long stood at the heart of the popular tourists’ city –Friday afternoon, thousands of people gathered at the square and chanted “I am not afraid” in defiance of terrorists.
Spanish police also expanded their hunt, as evidence of a wider web of plotters took shape after the worst terrorist attack on Spain in more than a decade.
The province of Barcelona is said to be the “main stage” for jihadist terrorism in Spain, academics told Sky News.
From 2004-12 some 40% of convicted jihadist terrorists in Spain and 25% of those detained from 2013-16 were based in Barcelona, they said.
Networks of jihadists drive terrorism in Spain far more often than lone wolf radicals, and Barcelona is “the breeding ground” for those networks, said Elcano Royal Institute’s Professor Fernando Reinares.
Investigators believe at least eight people plotted Thursday’s attack and the one carried out in the south of the city early Friday, which evinced a level of sophistication comparable to major strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent years, report The Washington Post. Other more recent attacks in Nice, Berlin and London were perpetrated by individuals operating largely on their own, it said.
As of Friday evening, authorities had detained three Moroccan men and a Spaniard, but the main suspect — the driver of the white van, who fled on foot after the rampage — was believed to remain at large. Police also were investigating the possibility that he was among five assailants killed in the second attack in Cambrils early Friday.
Police said the 5 suspects killed in Cambrils were carrying bomb belts, report AP.
China Plus News said the van driver in Barcelona attack was ‘confirmed shot and killed by police in Cambrills’ during the second attack on Friday early morning.
“Barcelona attacker Moussa Oukabir who drove a white van into the crowd in pedestrian boulevard of Las Ramblas, a popular tourist destination in Spain, was one of the terrorists who was shot and killed by police in Cambrills Friday, local media El Espanol reported Friday.”
Police said all five men who plowed their Audi into people along the corniche at about 1 a.m. on Friday were shot dead, four of them by the same officer.
Islamic State subsequently claimed to be behind the Thursday Barcelona attack, which was described as “jihad terrorism” by the country’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The whole Las Ramblas neighborhood was eerily quiet as heavily armed police patrolled on Friday.
Tourists and onlookers slowly filled the long boulevard, turning what is ordinarily a vacation hotspot into a site of mourning. Some set out candles to commemorate the victims.
In a series of tweets, President Trump said U.S. agencies were “on alert” and blamed court challenges and opposition from Democrats for making security “very difficult.” He gave no specifics.
“Radical Islamic Terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary!” Trump wrote. “The courts must give us back our protective rights. Have to be tough!”
The attacks on Thursday and Friday marked the latest uses of vehicles in terrorist strikes against civilians.
In vehicles used as a weapon in terror attacks in Europe, more than 100 people have died in Berlin, London and Nice.
Paris: On 9 August 2017 a man rammed a BMW into a group of soldiers, injuring six.
London: On 3 June 2017 Eight people died when three jihadists ran a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed passers by. A man was killed later in June in a van attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park.
London: Five people died on 22 March 2017 when a car rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and the driver stabbed to death a policeman.
Stockholm, Sweden: On 7 April 2017, Uzbek Rakhmat Akilov killed four people when he drove a lorry into a department store.
Berlin, Germany: On 19 December 2016, Tunisian Anis Amri ploughed a truck into a Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 people.
Nice, France: On 14 July 2016, Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into a big crowd on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people on Bastille Day.
France: In December 2014, a van was driven into a Christmas market in Nantes and a car rammed pedestrians in Dijon, leaving more than 20 wounded.