BARCELONA – Spain launched a sweeping anti-terrorism operation on Friday, shooting dead five would-be attackers after a suspected Islamist militant drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people and wounding scores.
Islamic State said the perpetrators had been responding to its call for action by carrying out Thursday’s rampage along Barcelona’s most famous avenue, which was thronged with holiday-makers enjoying an afternoon stroll at the peak of the tourist season.
Bodies, many motionless, were left strewn across the avenue and authorities said the toll of dead, which included several children, could rise, with more than 100 injured.
Hours later in the early hours of Friday, as security forces hunted for the van’s driver, police said they killed five attackers in Cambrils, a town south of Barcelona, to thwart a separate attack using explosive belts.
Details of the Cambrils incident, which police linked to the Barcelona attack, were still sketchy.
But police said six civilians and a police officer were injured when the attackers ran them over in a car, before police shot them dead and carried out controlled explosions.
Authorities later said the explosive belts were fake.
Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, the day before the van plowed into the tree-lined walkway of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas avenue, one person was killed in an explosion in a house in a separate town southwest of Barcelona, police said.
Police said they had arrested a Moroccan and a man from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla, though neither of them was the van driver. He was seen escaping on foot and was still at large. A third man was arrested in the town of Ripoll on Friday.
A judicial source said investigators believed a cell of at least eight people, possibly 12, may have been involved in the Barcelona attack and Cambrils plot and that it was planning to use gas canisters.
On Las Ramblas, residents and tourists trickled back to the famous promenade where hours earlier a white van had zigzagged at high speed through throngs of pedestrians and cyclists, leaving bodies strewn in its wake.
Residents walked dogs and curious tourists reclaimed the street, along with media crews, despite the driver still being at large. Some areas remained cordoned off by police.
“Those that live here can’t believe it, because we live here, we walk here, this is our neighborhood,” Sebastiano Palumbo, 47, an Italian architect working in Barcelona, said as he walked his dog. “I think the best thing would be to continue, every day, doing what do.”
Source – Reuters