A van mowed through crowds of tourists on Barcelona’s most famous avenue on Thursday, killing 13 and living close to 100 people injured in an attack claimed by Islamic State. The head of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, said two people had been arrested. It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved.
Witnesses said the white van zig-zagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, a busy avenue thronged with tourists, knocking down pedestrians and leaving bodies strewn across the ground.
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said: “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” – a reference to a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.
The claim could not immediately be verified.
If the involvement of Islamist militants is confirmed, it would be the latest in a string of attacks in the past 13 months in which they have used vehicles to bring carnage to the streets of European cities.
That modus operandi – crude, deadly and very hard to prevent – has killed well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.
Tom Gueller, a witness, told 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.
It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.
“Maximum coordination to arrest the attackers, reinforce security and attend to all those affected,” twitted Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, enroute to Barcelona.
The Spanish royal family also twitted, “They are murderers, nothing more than criminals who are not going to terrorize us. All of Spain is Barcelona. Las Ramblas will go back to being everyone’s.”
U.S. 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!”
Reports by local paper La Vanguardia that one of the suspected perpetrators had been killed in a shootout with police on the outskirts of Barcelona, is yet to be unconfirmed.
Catalan police said a driver ran over two police officers at a checkpoint in Barcelona after the van attack, but it remains unclear if the incidents are linked.
A Reuters Report
Additional editing by Manyika Review.