By Agence France-Presse
Suspects in Spain’s twin terror attacks had been planning an even bigger assault than the deadly car rampages they carried out, police said Friday, as distressing details emerged of families torn apart in the horror.
A 35-year-old Italian was among 14 killed, mowed down in front of his wife and young children in Barcelona when a driver rammed his van through crowds on the busy Las Ramblas boulevard on Thursday, before fleeing on foot.
Police said they shot dead five “suspected terrorists” who had knocked pedestrians down in the Catalan seaside resort of Cambrils in a second attack in the early hours of Friday, and arrested four others as Spain reeled from the deadly violence.
Catalonia’s regional police identified three of the suspects who were killed as Moroccan nationals.
They were Moussa Oukabir, 17, Said Aallaa, 18, and Mohamed Hychami, 24.
Police said they suspect 12 people of involvement in the attacks: the five who were killed, four who were arrested and three who have been identified but who remain at large.
Officials suspect that two of these three may have died in a blast at a house in the town of Alcanar, about 200 kilometers (140 miles) south of Barcelona on Wednesday evening.
Initially treated as a random gas blast, police later linked the blast to the Barcelona assault, believing occupants of the house were preparing a larger attack, possibly a vehicle bomb, with the use of gas canisters and slipped up.
Police removed dozens of gas canisters from the house, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“They were preparing one or several attacks in Barcelona, and an explosion in Alcanar stopped this as they no longer had the material they needed to commit attacks of an even bigger scope,” said Josep Lluis Trapero of Catalonia’s police.
After the explosion the suspects quickly went on to commit “more rudimentary” attacks. These involved the vehicles ploughing into pedestrians in Barcelona and Cambrils, he added.
The Cambrils suspects had an axe and knives in the car as well as fake explosive belts stuck to their bodies, said police.
High ‘level of coordination’
Both Spanish attacks followed the same modus operandi.
Drivers deliberately targeted pedestrians with their vehicles, the latest in a series of such assaults in Europe.
The Mediterranean resort of Nice in France was particularly hard hit on July 14, 2016, when a man rammed a truck into a crowd, killing 86 people.
Otso Iho of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre said the Spanish assaults, which stretched out over two different cities, appeared to be “a much higher level of coordination than has been typically present in previous attacks.”
It is also believed to be the first time IS has claimed an attack in Spain.
In a poignant moment Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, King Felipe VI and the president of Catalonia — where both attacks took place — held a minute of silence in Barcelona. It was followed by the crowd applauding and shouting “not afraid”.
But in a sign of the tensions sparked by the attacks, about 20 far-right militants tried to protest at the march. Some held up signs reading “No More Mosques” or “Refugees not welcome anymore”.
Scuffles broke out between the far-right militants and the march participants.