Terror cell behind Spain attack 'busted'

The suspected van is towed away from the area where it crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, on Aug 18, 2017.
The suspected van is towed away from the area where it crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, on Aug 18, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Search for suspected van driver who killed 13 in Barcelona attack expands to France

BARCELONA • Spanish police expanded a manhunt yesterday for a Moroccan national believed to be one of the perpetrators of twin car attacks that killed 14 and wounded around 100.

With the country in shock, Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said yesterday that the cell behind the carnage claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group had been "dismantled".

Police believe the cell, consisting of at least 12 young men, could have been plotting a car bomb attack but an explosion went off prematurely, killing two of the members.

They were yesterday still hunting for Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, without confirming reports that he was driving the white van that rammed into people on Barcelona's Las Ramblas boulevard on Thursday.

Thirteen people died at the scene and scores more were injured in scenes of horror witnessed by terrified friends and relatives, with locals and tourists laying flowers, candles and stuffed toys in their memory.

One woman was killed and six other people wounded in the second attack, with police killing five "suspected terrorists" who were in the car and arresting four others.

Three of the five shot dead were Moroccan nationals: Moussa Oukabir, 17, Said Aallaa, 18, and Mohamed Hychami, 24. Moussa's older brother, Driss, is one of the four arrested.

Police also identified another three suspects linked to the attacks, two of whom are thought to have died in a blast on Wednesday night as they tried to make explosives at a house in Alcanar, a town some 200km south of Barcelona.

Police who searched the remains of the property found a large number of gas canisters they believe were intended to be packed into a vehicle and driven into crowds. Police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said they were planning "a much bigger atrocity" than the one that took place.

Yesterday, police searched the home of an imam in Ripoll, a small town at the foot of the Pyrenees where some of the suspects lived, according to his flatmate who did not want to identify him. The El Pais daily, quoting police sources, said the imam could be one of the dead in the explosion.

As the hunt for Abouyaaqoub gathered pace, Spanish police tipped off their French counterparts about a white Renault Kangoo van linked to the attacks that may have crossed the border, a French police source told AFP. Other countries such as Italy are reported to be on heightened security alert.

In Singapore, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, responding to questions about the Spain attacks, said it is clear that such attacks will happen with "sickening regularity".

"There are going to be these dastardly attacks and innocent people getting killed," he said on the sidelines of the Chong Pang National Day Dinner yesterday.

"All around the world, there is a sick ideology of wanting to kill for the sake of killing and it's extremism. And then there are people who counter the extremism with extremism of their own (and) hate speech all around. We have to try and protect ourselves from that." AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS

•Additional report by Tham Yuen-C

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'Terror cell behind Spain attack 'busted''. Print Edition | Subscribe