Van ploughs into crowded Barcelona street in 'terror attack'

#EuropeAttacks

At least 13 people dead, more than 100 hurt in IS-claimed van attack that police call well-coordinated

Police on streets of Barcelona after suspected terrorist attack (AFP)
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Friday 18 August 2017 6:35 UTC
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A manhunt is under way for the driver of a van that mowed down crowds of tourists on a famous Barcelona avenue on Thursday, killing at least 13 people in an attack that was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

A Catalonia government official said at least 100 people were injured, 15 seriously.

A house explosion linked to the attack also left one person dead, Spanish police said. 

Two people have so far been arrested, but the BBC said neither of them drove the van. Though it was still not clear how many attackers were involved, Catalonia police said in a news conference that the attack was well-coordinated and that the driver is still on the run. 

According to witnesses, a white van zigzagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, a busy avenue thronged with tourists, knocking down pedestrians and leaving bodies strewn across the pavement.

IS claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack through its media outlet, Amaq.

A separate car attack occurred in the the Spanish seaside resort of Cambrils early on Friday, the regional government said, which wounded six civilians and one police officer when a car drove into a group of people.

Police said they shot dead four of the attackers and wounded another, adding that they were "working on the hypothesis that the terrorists shot dead in Cambrils could be linked to what happened in Barcelona."

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"The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states," IS said, referencing the US-led coalition battling the Sunni militant group in Syria and Iraq.

The claim could not immediately be verified.

If the involvement of militants is confirmed, it would be the latest in a series of attacks over the past 13 months in which vehicles were used to bring carnage to the streets of European cities.

That modus operandi - crude, deadly and very hard to prevent - has killed more than 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

Witness Tom Gueller told the BBC: "I heard screams and a bit of a crash and then I just saw the crowd parting and this van going full pelt down the middle of the Ramblas and I immediately knew that it was a terrorist attack or something like that.

"It wasn't slowing down at all. It was just going straight through the middle of the crowds," he added.



Armed policemen stand in a cordoned off area after a van ploughed into the crowd (AFP)

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It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter he was en route to Barcelona. "Maximum coordination to arrest the attackers, reinforce security and attend to all those affected," he said.

The Spanish royal household said on Twitter: “They are murderers, nothing more than criminals who are not going to terrorise us. All of Spain is Barcelona. Las Ramblas will go back to being everyone’s.”

US President Donald Trump said: "The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help."

He added: "Be tough & strong, we love you!"

Barcelona's football club expressed sympathy for the victims of the attack.

'We saw people flying'

La Vanguardia newspaper said one of the suspected perpetrators had been killed in a shootout with police on the outskirts of Barcelona, but this was unconfirmed.

Catalan police said a driver ran over two police officers at a checkpoint in Barcelona after the van attack, but it was not clear if the incidents were linked.

Mobile phone footage showed several bodies strewn along the Ramblas, some motionless. Paramedics and bystanders bent over them, treating them and trying to comfort those still conscious.

Around them, the boulevard was deserted, covered in rubbish and abandoned objects including hats, flip-flops, bags and a pram.

Belgium's foreign minister said a Belgian was among the dead.

The head of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, said people were flocking to hospitals in Barcelona to give blood.

Holidaymaker Ellen Vercamm told El Pais newspaper: "We saw a white van collide with people. We saw people going flying."

A witness named Rebecca told La Vanguardia: "I've seen a lot of people knocked down on the floor and the people are running and crying. The van drove down the middle of the street dragging everyone with it."

Tourist draw

The incident took place at the height of the tourist season in Barcelona, which is one of Europe's top travel destinations with at least 11 million visitors a year.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe's deadliest militant attacks in recent years, tweeted: "All my thoughts and France's solidarity to the victims of the tragic attack in Barcelona."

A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis was praying for the victims and wanted to express his closeness to all Spanish people, especially the victims and their families.

Barcelona is the capital of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, which plans to hold a popular vote on 1 October on whether it should secede from Spain. It is in dispute with the central government, which says the vote cannot go ahead because it is unconstitutional.

After the attack, security staff at Barcelona airport suspended a strike that started in early August. "Our work is now more necessary than ever," a spokesman said.