20 Aug 2017

Barcelona attack terror cell 'dismantled'

9:02 am on 20 August 2017

The terror cell behind the attack in Barcelona that left 13 people dead has been dismantled, Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido says.

Spanish policemen stand guard in a cordoned off area after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing 13 persons and injuring over 50 on the Rambla in Barcelona on August 17, 2017.

Spanish policemen stand guard in a cordoned off area after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing 13 people on the Rambla in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

"The cell has been fully dismantled in Barcelona, after examining the people who died, the people who were arrested and carrying out identity checks," he told a news conference.

But the regional Catalan government said there could be further arrests.

A key suspect linked to the Barcelona attack and a later one is still sought.

Thursday's attack in the Catalan capital saw a van driven at high speed along Las Ramblas - the pedestrianised avenue popular with tourists and residents alike.

Spanish police are searching for Moroccan-born Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, who they suspect may be the driver who escaped the scene on foot.

Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, has emerged as the main suspect in the Barcelona attack

Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, has emerged as the main suspect in the Barcelona attack. Photo: AFP / Mossos D'Esquadra

Only hours later, early on Friday, there was a second van attack in Cambrils, west of Barcelona.

A woman was killed and police shot dead five suspected attackers, including Moussa Oukabir, 17, originally reported as the key suspect in the Barcelona attack.

Oukabir is suspected of using his brother's documents to rent the van used in Barcelona and another found hours later in the town of Vic, north of Barcelona, that was intended as a getaway vehicle.

The terror cell is reported to comprise 12 men. The Catalan Interior Minster, Joaquim Forn, stressed that the police operation could not be considered over until all those suspected of being part of the cell were in custody.

Police say the suspects had been planning more sophisticated attacks, but an explosion on Wednesday at a house in the town of Alcanar deprived them of bomb material, so they carried out simpler attacks using vehicles.

Abouyaaqoub lived in the town of Ripoll to the north of Barcelona. Three people have been arrested in Ripoll, and one in Alcanar.

In Ripoll the apartment of an imam was raided on Saturday.

Another van, a Renault Kangoo, is also being sought, amid reports it may have been driven across the border into France.

Security is being stepped up, though the security alert level is staying unchanged as there is no information suggesting an imminent attack.

Special police controls were introduced at Saturday's two La Liga football matches in Barcelona and Girona.

Who are the suspects?

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it had carried out the Las Ramblas attack, though it is not clear whether any of the attackers were directly connected to the group or simply inspired by it.

From left, Moussa Oukabir, Said Aalla, Mohamed Hychami and Younes Abouyaaqoub.

Moussa Oukabir, Said Aalla, Mohamed Hychami and Younes Abouyaaqoub. Photo: AFP

  • Killed: Five suspected jihadists shot dead by police in Cambrils - Moussa Oukabir, 17; Said Aallaa, 18; Mohamed Hychami, 24; two unnamed men
  • Arrested: Three in the town of Ripoll - Driss Oukabir, 28, the brother of Moussa, who turned himself in saying his documents had been stolen to rent vehicles used in the Las Ramblas attack; Sahal el-Karib, 34; Mohammed Aallaa, 27; one unnamed person in Alcanar, following the house explosion there on Wednesday
  • Hunted: Younes Abouyaaqoub, now suspected to be the driver in the Las Ramblas attack

What do we know about the victims?

Five of the dead have been named so far:

  • American Jared Tucker, 43
  • Canadian Ian Moore Wilson
  • Spaniard Francisco López Rodríguez, in his 60s
  • Italian Bruno Gulotta, 35Italian Luca Russo, 25

A 74-year-old Portuguese woman, a 40-year-old woman with dual Argentine and Spanish citizenship, and a Belgian were also killed, their governments said.

The whereabouts of seven-year-old Julian Cadman, a dual British-Australian national apparently separated from his injured mother during the attack, remains unclear. He was widely reported to be missing.

However, the Catalan police, responding to inquiries, tweeted that they had neither been looking for nor found any missing child. The victims and the injured had all been located, they said.

Catalan emergency services gave a new breakdown of the injured on Saturday:

  • Barcelona attack: 12 critical, 24 serious, 11 less serious, 3 minor
  • Cambrils attack: 1 serious, 2 less serious, 1 minor

Timeline of events

  • Alcanar, Wednesday evening: An explosion rips through a house in the small town, 200km south of Barcelona. One person dies. Police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said it appeared the residents at the house had been "preparing an explosive device". A Catalan government official says a cell may have intended to use gas canisters in the Las Ramblas attack
  • Barcelona, Thursday 16:50: A white Fiat van drives down Las Ramblas in central Barcelona, killing 13 people and injuring scores. The driver flees on foot
  • Vic, Thursday 18:30: Police find a second van, thought to be a getaway vehicle, in the town, 80km north of Barcelona
  • Sant Just Desvern, Thursday 19:30: A car is driven towards officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona. They open fire. A man is later found dead in the passenger seat of the car with stab wounds. The dead man is not linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing. One theory is that the car was stolen and the man was killed by the carjacker, who is still at large
  • Cambrils, Friday 01:00: A second vehicle attack takes place in the resort south of Barcelona. Police kill five terrorist suspects said to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack. They include Moussa Oukabir, 17, initially thought to be the Las Ramblas attacker. Police later say another man, Younes Abouyaaqoub, is being hunted.


Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs