MADRID (REUTERS) - The driver of the van that ploughed into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people, was one of five men shot dead by police in a Catalan seaside resort hours later, Spanish newspapers reported on Friday (Aug 18).
Josep Lluis Trapero, police chief in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, had said earlier that it was possible, but not confirmed, that the driver was among those killed.
The driver abandoned the van and fled on Thursday after speeding along a pedestrianised section of Las Ramblas, the most famous boulevard in Barcelona, leaving a trail of dead and injured among the crowds of tourists and local residents thronging the street.
It was the latest of a string of attacks across Europe in the past 13 months in which militants have used vehicles as weapons – a crude but deadly tactic that is near-impossible to prevent and has now killed nearly 130 people in France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Spain.
Suspected Islamic militants have been behind the previous attacks. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said the perpetrators of the latest one had been responding to its call to target countries involved in a US-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.
Hours after the van rampage, police shot dead five people in the Catalan resort of Cambrils, 120km down the coast from Barcelona, after they drove their car at pedestrians and police officers.
The five assailants had an axe and knives in their car and wore fake explosive belts, police said. A single police officer shot four of the men, Trapero said.
A Spanish woman was killed in the Cambrils incident, while several other civilians and a police officer were injured.
Trapero said the investigation was focusing on a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, which was razed by an explosion shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
Police believe the house was being used to plan one or several large-scale attacks in Barcelona, possibly using a large number of butane gas canisters stored there.
However, the apparently accidental explosion at the house forced the conspirators to scale down their plans and to hurriedly carry out more “rudimentary” attacks, Trapero said.
Police have arrested four people in connection with the attacks – three Moroccans and a citizen of Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla, Trapero said. They were aged between 21 and 34, and none had a history of terrorism-related activities.
Authorities have issued arrest warrants for four further suspects in connection with the two attacks, a judicial source said, declining to give their names.
La Vanguardia, a Barcelona-based newspaper, said the four being sought were all of Moroccan origin and aged between 17 and 24.
Catalan police said later that all five of the men killed in Cambrils had been identified. Spain’s Europa Press news agency quoted sources close to the investigation as saying that three of the four men being sought by the police were among the dead, while a fourth was still at large.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent his condolences to Spain, and US President Donald Trump spoke to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from aboard Air Force One.
Police in France are looking for the driver of a white Renault Kangoo van that may been used by people involved in the Barcelona attack, a French police source told Reuters.
WORST SINCE 2004
It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people.
Of 126 people injured in Barcelona and Cambrils, 65 were still in hospital and 17 were in a critical condition. The dead and injured came from 34 countries, ranging from France and Germany to Pakistan and the Philippines.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said an American citizen was confirmed dead, and Spanish media said several children were killed.
A judicial source said investigators believed a cell of at least eight people, possibly 12, may have been involved in the Barcelona and Cambrils operations and that it had been planning to use gas canisters.
As Spain began three days of mourning, people returned to Las Ramblas, laying flowers and lighting candles in memory of the victims. Rajoy and Spain’s King Felipe visited Barcelona’s main square nearby to observe a minute’s silence.
Defiant crowds later chanted “I am not afraid” in Catalan.
Foreign leaders voiced condemnation and sympathy, including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe’s deadliest recent attacks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after media reports that some Germans were among those killed, said Islamist terrorism “can never defeat us” and vowed to press ahead with campaigning for a general election in Germany in September.
In a message to the cardinal of Barcelona, Pope Francis said the attack was “an act of blind violence that is a grave offence to the Creator”.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the attack showed the European Union’s system of migrant relocation was wrong. “It is dangerous. Europe should wake up,” he said. “We are dealing here with a clash of civilisations.”