UPDATE: Police say several terrorists were killed during a police operation in Cambrils, about 100 km south of Barcelona
Police continue to search for the driver of van that plowed through a tourist district in Barcelona and left at least 13 dead, in what police now suspect to be one of multiple planned terrorist attacks.
On Thursday afternoon, a Fiat van drove into crowds in the city’s historic Las Ramblas district with the “intention of killing as many people as possible,” Spanish police said.
While police have two people in custody, they say neither of them were the driver of the van, whom they continue to search for.
The investigation into the attack continued Thursday night. Spanish officials are requesting that people not share photos or locations of police operations, saying it could hinder their work.
Police said a possible terrorist operation led to the deaths of several terrorists in Cambrils, a Spanish city south of Barcelona. Officials urged residents to stay indoors due to a police operation.
Another suspect, Driss Oukabir, was named. Reports from local media say Oukabir turned himself in after his photo was circulated by police.
The arrested suspects are a Spanish national from Melilla and a Moroccan.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a statement carried on its Aamaq news agency.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the region “today hit by jihad terrorism like other cities have been throughout the world.”
He also said it merited a “global response.”
The Cabinet of Crisis in Spain has been called to take appropriate measures to retaliate, the police said.
Police cordoned off the broad, popular street, ordering stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services.
Speaking with Sky News, a witness described the panicked scene as many tried to take shelter in local stores.
“All of a sudden it was real kind of chaos… people just started running, screaming,” Ethan Spibey told the news station. “There was kind of a mini stampede. It seems like a lot of people have taken refuge in shops and local cafes.”
Photos on social media show several people on the ground as emergency services arrive.
Mid-August is the height of the tourist season in Barcelona and one of Europe’s top travel destinations, according to Reuters, with over 10 million visitors each year.
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior said the latest numbers of injured were as follows:
- 13 people killed
- 15 with serious injuries
- 23 with less serious injuries
- 42 with mild injuries
Joaquim Forn, the regional interior chief who is in charge of the police told reporters the “number of fatalities will likely rise.”
Van attack and other incidents
A senior police official said the van attack was linked to an explosion that occurred overnight Wednesday or Thursday morning in which one person was killed. Residents there were preparing explosives, a police source added.
That explosion took place in Alcanar, around 100 kilometres south of Barcelona, The Guardian reports.
WATCH: Home explosion outside Barcelona linked to van attack
Catalan police also said that a driver drove into two policemen at a police checkpoint at 7:24 p.m. local time on Thursday. They say the driver was arrested, but it is not clear if this event was related to the incident at Las Ramblas.
A senior police official in Barcelona has confirmed that regional police troopers have shot and killed the driver of a vehicle that drove through a police checkpoint and struck two officers.
However, Major Josep Lluis Trapero of the Catalonia region’s police force says the driver is not thought to have been involved in the van attack that killed 13 people earlier Thursday night.
Spain’s El Periodico newspaper reported that two armed men were holed up in a bar in the city centre, but police later said no such incident took place.
Police later confirmed that there was no evidence the driver of the van had a gun.
The Catalan president has declared three days of mourning for the victims of the attack.
“Catalonia has been, and will be, a land of peace. A place of welcome. And we will not let a minority end our way of being that has been forged over centuries,” Carles Puigdemont said.
“Tomorrow at noon people will gather in Plaça Catalunya for a minute’s silence.”
National and international response
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 wrote.
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.”
U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to condemn the “terror attack.”
“The United States condemns the terror attack, in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough & strong, we love you!” the president tweeted.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also condemned the attack saying “our hearts, sympathies and support are with the victims and their families.”
Global Affairs Canada says Canadians in Barcelona should avoid the Las Ramblas tourist area and anyone who is already there should stay indoors and follow the instructions of the authorities.
There was no immediate word on whether any Canadians are among the victims.
Belgium’s foreign minister said a Belgian was among the dead. One Australian woman is in hospital in “serious but stable condition,” Australian officials said.
German media said at least three Germans were among the dead, citing security forces, the Guardian reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Thursday evening: “All my thoughts and solidarity from France for the victims of the tragic attack in Barcelona. We will remain united and determined.”
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, whose Mediterranean city lost 86 people in a truck attack during a Bastille Day fireworks display a little more than a year ago, announced that a special homage to Barcelona’s victims would be held Friday.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Spanish native whose city has faced multiple Islamic extremist attacks in recent years, expressed her “sadness and indignation.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker echoed other continental leaders, saying “this cowardly attack has deliberately targeted those enjoying life and sharing time with family and friends. We will never be cowed by such barbarism.”
Spain has been on a security alert one step below the maximum since June 2015 following attacks elsewhere in Europe and Africa. Spanish police have also been involved in the arrests of more than 200 suspected jihadis since then.
Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.
The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked truck to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.
There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March. Four other men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge, unleashing a rampage with knives that killed eight people in June. Another man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.
*with files from the Associated Press