Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: Hunt for suspect in Spain

A massive manhunt is under way in Spain for the man suspected of killing 13 people and injuring scores on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas on Thursday.

Spanish media named the man being sought as 18-year-old Moussa Oukabir.

He is suspected of using his brother’s documents to rent the van that mowed down people on the famous boulevard.

Hours later, police killed five suspected jihadists in a second vehicle attack in the town of Cambrils. A woman injured in that attack died later.

Police said the men killed in Cambrils were linked to the Barcelona attack, which the Islamic State group said it had carried out.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy condemned what he called a “jihadist attack” in Barcelona. He has announced three days of national mourning and a minute’s silence was held at noon (10:00 GMT) on Friday.

What lines of inquiry are police following?

Police say they are investigating the hypothesis that the attacks were being prepared over a substantial period of time in a private house in Alcanar, a small town south of Barcelona.

Explosions ripped through the building on Wednesday evening, apparently caused by exploding gas canisters. One person was killed.

The explosives were apparently being prepared for use in one or more attacks in Barcelona, police said.

Catalan Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero said the actual attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were “rudimentary” in comparison.

Who is being sought?

Spanish media have quoted police as saying that they are seeking Moussa Oukabir, but they will not say directly that he is the man believed to have been behind the wheel of the van.

Two images of Moussa Oukabir have been used in the Spanish press, taken from social media.

The driver of the van fled on foot after mowing down tourists and locals on Las Ramblas.

Catalonia’s Interior Minister Joaquim Forn, quoted by the Associated Press, said: “We had local police on the scene, but we were unable to shoot him, as the Ramblas were packed with people.”

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Spanish media say Moussa Oukabir rented two vans, the one used in the attack and another found hours later in the town of Vic, north of Barcelona, and intended as a getaway vehicle.

His brother, Driss Oukabir, was arrested after reportedly turning himself in on Thursday.

Reports suggest Driss, who is in his 20s and was born in Morocco, told police he was not involved and that his documents had been stolen.

Three other arrests have been made. Two of the men are Moroccan, and the third was born in Melilla, the autonomous Spanish city on the north coast of Africa.

Police said three of the arrests were made in the Catalan town of Ripoll and one in Alcanar after Wednesday’s explosions.

They gave the ages of the arrested men as 21, 27, 28 and 34.

What happened on Las Ramblas?

A Fiat van was driven down the pedestrianised avenue on Thursday afternoon, weaving from side to side and deliberately targeting people.

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Las Ramblas is a central boulevard that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) through the centre of Barcelona from the city’s Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) to the Christopher Columbus monument at the seafront.

A businessman from New Orleans who was just arriving in a taxi in Las Ramblas, said the van was “weaving left and right, trying to hit people as fast as possible. There were people lying on the ground”.

Kevin Kwast, who is on holiday in Barcelona with his family, said: “Hundreds of people started stampeding through the market… we started running with them going outside right into where casualties were already on the ground.”

What happened in Cambrils?

Seven people, including a police officer, were hit when a car was driven into them early on Friday, Catalan emergency services said.

A woman was later confirmed dead.

The attackers’ vehicle overturned and when the men got out they were quickly fired upon by police, media say. One was reportedly brandishing a knife.

The men were wearing what appeared to be explosive belts, police said, and a series of controlled explosions was carried out. The belts proved to be fake, Catalan regional head Carles Puigdemont later told local radio.

Police say the situation in Cambrils – a popular seaside resort 110km (68 miles) south-west of Barcelona – is now under control.

Who were the victims?

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Citizens of some 34 countries were killed or injured in the Las Ramblas attack, the Catalan government has said. One woman died in Cambrils.

Confirmed dead:

  • Spaniard Francisco López Rodríguez, in his 60s
  • Italian Bruno Gulotta, 35
  • Unnamed Italian
  • Unnamed Belgian

France’s foreign ministry said on Friday that 26 French nationals were injured, with at least 11 in a serious condition.

Thirteen German citizens were wounded, some seriously. A five-year-old Irish boy suffered a broken leg.

Seven-year-old Australian Julian Cadman, who was separated from his mother during the attack, is missing, ABC reports. His mother was reportedly among the seriously injured.

Taiwan and Greece are among those saying their citizens were injured. Pakistani, Philippine, Venezuelan, Romanian, Peruvian, Dutch, Danish, Algerian and Chinese nationals were also among the casualties, officials said.

What do we know about the victims?

What is the 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 (14:50 GMT): 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 into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona. A man is found dead in the car but the interior ministry denies earlier reports he was killed by police gunfire. The dead man is not believed to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing
  • 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

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Analysis: Low tech, high impact

Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

The practice of using a large vehicle as a weapon to attack pedestrians is not new. Palestinian militants have used it against Israelis, al-Qaeda encouraged its followers to do it seven years ago in its online magazine.

But the recent spate of lethal attacks in European cities stems in large part from a call made in 2014 by the now-deceased Islamic State propagandist, Abu Mohammed Al-Adnani.

He urged IS followers to abandon elaborate plots in favour of simple, low-tech, high-impact attacks in the West. He specifically mentioned vehicles.

Now, with IS coming under massive pressure in the Middle East, where its caliphate is shrinking by the day, its remaining leaders are more determined than ever to strike back at those countries they blame for the end of their brutal rule.

So the onus will now be on governments to second guess where violent jihadists may be tempted to strike next and put measures in place to stop them.


Europe’s deadly vehicle attacks

  • Paris, 9 August 2017: A man rammed a BMW into a group of soldiers, injuring six
  • London, 19 June 2017: A man was killed in a van attack on Muslims outside a mosque in Finsbury Park
  • London, 3 June 2017: Eight people died when three jihadists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed passers-by
  • Stockholm, Sweden, 7 April 2017: Uzbek Rakhmat Akilov killed five people when he drove a lorry through a shopping area
  • London, 22 March 2017: Four people died when a car rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and the driver then stabbed to death a policeman
  • Berlin, Germany, 19 December 2016: Tunisian Anis Amri ploughed a truck into a Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 people
  • Nice, France, 14 July 2016: Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people on Bastille Day
  • France, December 2014: A van was driven into a Christmas market in Nantes and a car rammed pedestrians in Dijon, leaving more than 20 wounded

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