BARCELONA, Spain – A cell of at least nine extremists meticulously plotted to combine vehicles and explosives in a direct hit on tourists, and managed to carry off most of their deadly plan, killing 14 people, authorities said Friday. Police in Spain and France pressed a manhunt for any remaining members of the group, which Islamic State claimed as its own.
Only flawed bomb construction avoided a more devastating attack, authorities said after taking a closer look at a blast Wednesday evening in the town of Alcanar that was first written off as a household gas explosion. At least one person was killed and several injured in the home where police said the deadly plan took shape.
Eighteen hours later, a rented van veered into Barcelona’s crowded Las Ramblas promenade, swerving along the walkway Thursday and killing 13 people. A surveillance video from inside a museum, which captured images of the van, showed it speeding down the promenade, barely missing a person with a stroller while others scattered.
Armed with an ax, knives and false explosives belts, attackers then drove a second vehicle to the boardwalk in the resort town of Cambrils early Friday, fatally injuring one person. Five of those attackers were shot to death, among them 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, said a Spanish police union official, confirming Spanish news reports.
Oukabir’s name was first on a document listing four suspects sought in the attacks, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation. The Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper, Spanish national broadcaster RTVE and other outlets cited police sources as saying he was the driver of the van in Barcelona.
The arrest order was issued throughout Spain and into France, according to the Spanish official and a French police official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the document. They did not say what became of the other three men listed, who ranged in age from 18 to 24. All had roots in Morocco; only Moussa Oukabir was born in Spain, according to the document.
Earlier in the day, Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont said at least one “terrorist is still on out there. We do not have information regarding the capacity to do more harm.”
The French official said Spain had flagged a rented van that was believed to have crossed the border to the north.
Moussa’s brother Driss Oukabir was arrested Thursday after he went to police to report his stolen identity documents were those found in the van abandoned on the historic Las Ramblas promenade, Spanish media reported.
The brothers were born and raised in Ripoll, a quiet, upscale town of 10,000 tucked into hilly Catalan heartland and dominated by the imposing tower of the Monesteri de Santa Maria. The dented door to the family’s first-floor apartment swung open Friday; the home was empty.
Neighbors said they were shocked by the news of Moussa Oukabir’s involvement. One teenager, who identified himself only by his first name, Pau, said they played together when they were younger and he was “a good boy.”
Authorities said the two attacks were related and the work of a large terrorist cell that had been plotting for a long time from the house in Alcanar, 124 miles down the coast from Barcelona. The house was destroyed by a butane gas explosion Wednesday night that killed one person. One of those injured in the blast was taken into custody.