BARCELONA, Spain – A van mowed through crowds of tourists on Barcelona’s most famous avenue on Thursday, killing at least thirteen people in an attack that was claimed by Islamic State.
The head of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, said at least 80 people had been taken to hospital and 13 had been reported killed.
He said two people had been arrested. It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved.
Witnesses said the white van zigzagged 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.
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Some eight hours after a white van sped into a street packed full of tourists in central Barcelona, a car rammed into pedestrians in Cambrils, a city 120 kilometres south of Barcelona on Friday.
In Friday’s attack, six people were injured – one of them is said to be in a critical condition. Gunfire ensued after an Audi A3 ploughed into pedestrians. Police killed the five attackers, some of whom were wearing explosive belts.
According to the police, they were “working on the hypothesis that the terrorists shot dead in Cambrils are linked to what happened in Barcelona”.
Deadliest attack since 2004
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.
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.
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 said.
The Spanish royal household said on Twitter: “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.”
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe join crowds in Barcelona to remember those killed in yesterday's terror attack pic.twitter.com/xdQa1Y3Oi8
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 18, 2017
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!”
The incident took place at the height of the tourist season in Barcelona, which is one of Europe’s top travel destinations with at least 11 million visitors a year.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe’s deadliest militant attacks in recent years, tweeted: “All my thoughts and France’s solidarity to the victims of the tragic attack in Barcelona.”
A Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis was praying for the victims and wanted to express his closeness to all Spanish people, especially the victims and their families.