The Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain–A van veered onto a promenade and barrelled down the busy walkway in central Barcelona yesterday, swerving back and forth as it mowed down pedestrians and turned a picturesque tourist destination into a bloody killing zone.
Thirteen people were killed and 100 were injured, 15 of them seriously, in what authorities called a terrorist attack.
Two people were arrested but the van driver, who fled on foot, remained at large.
Early this morning, police killed five suspects engaged in an attack that injured six people in a seaside resort town, and which the government for Spain’s Catalonia region said was connected to the Barcelona killings.
The late-afternoon attack in the city’s Las Ramblas district left victims sprawled in the historic street, spattered with blood or writhing in pain from broken limbs.
Others were ushered inside shops by officers with their guns drawn or fled in panic, screaming and carrying young children in their arms.
“It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible,” Josep Lluis Trapero, a senior police official for Catalonia, told reporters late yesterday.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, saying in a statement on its Aamaq news agency that the attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State” in response to the extremist group’s calls for followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive it from Syria and Iraq.
Early today, Catalan police said they shot and killed five suspects in response to a terrorist attack in the seaside resort town of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.
They said the suspects carried bomb belts, which were detonated by a police bomb squad.
Media reports said a car crashed into a police vehicle and nearby civilians, and police shot the attackers–one brandishing a knife.
A police officer and five civilians were injured, with two in serious condition.
Police are working on the theory that the Cambrils and Barcelona attacks are connected, as well as a Wednesday night explosion in the town of Alcanar in which one person was killed.
Catalan Interior minister Joaquin Forn told local radio RAC1 early today that the Cambrils attack “follows the same trail” as the Barcelona one.
“There is a connection,” he said.
The Catalan regional government said citizens from 24 countries were among the people killed and injured during the Barcelona van attack, including Canada.
Global Affairs confirmed Canadians have been affected by the attacks, but did not provide further details, citing privacy reasons.
Authorities said the dead included a Belgian while a Greek woman was among the injured.
Australia confirmed three of its citizens were injured; two others were Taiwanese and one was from Hong Kong, according to their governments.
Germany was investigating whether its citizens were among the dead or injured.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the killings a “savage terrorist attack” and said Spaniards “are not just united in mourning, but especially in the firm determination to beat those who want to rob us of our values and our way of life.”
After the afternoon attack, Las Ramblas went into lockdown. Swarms of officers brandishing handguns and automatic weapons launched a manhunt in the downtown district, ordering stores and cafes and public transport to shut down.
Several hours later, authorities reported two arrests–one a Spanish national from Melilla, a Spanish-run Mediterranean seafront enclave in North Africa, and the other a Moroccan.
They declined to identify them.
But Trapero said neither of them was the van’s driver, who remained at large after abandoning the van and fleeing on foot.
The arrests took place in the northern Catalan town of Ripoll and in Alcanar, where a gas explosion in a house is being investigated for a possible connection.
Barcelona is the latest European city where attackers used a vehicle as a weapon of terror against a popular tourist destination, after other deadly attacks in France, Germany, Sweden and Britain.
“London, Brussels, Paris, and some other European cities have had the same experience,” said Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia’s government.
“It’s been Barcelona’s turn today.”
Yesterday’s bloodshed was Spain’s deadliest attack since 2004, when al-Qaida-inspired bombers killed 192 people in co-ordinated assaults on Madrid’s commuter trains.
In the years since, Spanish authorities have arrested nearly 200 jihadists.
The only deadly attacks were bombings claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA that killed five people over the past decade, but it declared a cease-fire in 2011.
“Unfortunately, Spaniards know the absurd and irrational pain that terrorism causes,” Rajoy said.
“We have received blows like this in recent years, but we also that terrorists can be beaten.”