In what is being touted as the deadliest attack in Spain in over a decade, a van rammed into a crowd of people in one of the most famous tourist spots of Barcelona. At least 13 people have died and around 10 injured in the terror attack. The rampage is the latest in a series of attacks in the past one year in which vehicles have been used to cause terror on the streets of European cities. Here’s how it all unfolded:
At around 5.30 pm (local time) on Thursday, tourists and locals in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas area saw white van crashing into a crowd full of people, pulling back and forth to apparently hurt as many people as possible. Witnesses told media that the van was moving from side to side while plowing into people. People walk down a wide, pedestrianized path in the center of the street, but cars can travel on either side in the city’s famous tourist destination, reported The Associated Press. One of the most picturesque cities in Spain was teeming with people due to the height of the tourist season.
“People were shouting and we heard a bang and someone cried that it was a gunshot … Me and my family ran into the restaurant along with around 40 other people. At first people were going crazy in there, lots of people crying, including a little girl around three years old,” a British tourist told Reuters.
Videos shared on social media show people running for cover and many others being knocked due to the impact of the car’s speed. The first visuals from the scene show bodies lying on the floor, people attending the injured and objects like chairs and umbrella scattered around the busy street. Soon, Catalan police cordoned off the broad street and shut down its stores.
Islamic State claims responsibility for ‘Jihadist attack’
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Barcelona terror attack via its media arm. In a statement posted on the Aamaq news agency, the extremist group claimed: “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.” The Islamic State’s claim however could not immediately be verified. Condemning the attack, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it was a “jihadist attack”.
Spain has sent several hundred soldiers to Iraq as a part of the US-led coalition against the terrorist organisation. The Spanish soldiers provide training to local forces to fight against Islamic State. They are not involved in ground operations, reported Reuters.
AFP reported that Catalonia has the highest concentration of radicalised Islamists along with Madrid and the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco. Government figures also revealed that police had arrested 11 suspected jihadists in the Barcelona area so far this year. It is the highest number of arrests made in Spain. Interior ministry also said more than 190 “jihadist terrorists” had been arrested since 2015.
Police kills terrorists
Hours after the attack was carried out, Catalan police gunned down the five suspects in an extensive anti-terror operation foiling another assault bid. The alleged terrorists were killed in an encounter in Cambrils in an operation which wounded five civilians and a police officer. According to Reuters, the attackers ran them over in a car before being killed. The police claimed that the attackers were carrying bomb belts which were later detonated by the bomb squad adding that the Cambrils incident was linked to the van attack in Barcelona. Police also linked the van attack to an explosion which killed one, injured seven and destroyed a house in Alcanar, which is about 200km from Barcelona.
A Moroccan and a man from the north African enclave of Melilla were arrested in connection with the case. Apart from this, police have also released a picture of the man who allegedly rented the van. Local media reports, however, suggest that the man named Driss Oukabir handed himself in to police stating that his papers were stolen and used without his knowledge.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry says that there were multiple German citizens among the injured
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin on Friday that at the moment they know of 13 Germans injured, “some of them seriously, so seriously that they are still fighting for their lives.” He says he could not confirm unsourced media reports that Germans were also killed in the attacks. He says, however, “we also can’t rule that out.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expresses her sympathy with Spain over the attacks in Barcelona
Merkel said today that such violence cannot be allowed to change the European way of life. Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Merkel said Friday that “these murderous attacks have once again showed us the total hatred of humanity with which Islamist terrorism acts.” She added “we will not allow these murderers to make us depart from our path, from our way of life.”
She said “terrorism can cause us bitter and deeply sad hours, as has happened in Spain, but it won’t defeat us.” She said the Foreign Ministry is still working with Spanish authorities to say whether any Germans were among the victims.
“This can’t be said with great precision right now,” she added.