13 dead, more than 100 injured after van plows through Barcelona crowd

A white van was driven up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents.

Late Thursday afternoon, Catalonia police updated the casualty figures, confirming 13 dead and more than 100 injured, and warned “this figure may rise in the next few hours.”

A senior police official said it was “clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible.”

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, said two suspects were in custody — a Spanish national from Melilla and a Moroccan — but that neither of them was believed to be the driver of the van. Trapero said the attack was linked to an explosion Wednesday in the town of Alcanar that killed one person.

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Injured people are treated in Barcelona on Thursday, August 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district and barrelled into pedestrians police said. (Oriol Duran/Associated Press)

People were left sprawled on the ground in the city in northeastern Spain, some spattered with blood, others with broken limbs. As witnesses and emergency workers tried to help the wounded, police brandishing handguns launched a search of side streets amid reports that at least one perpetrator and maybe more were holed up in a nearby bar.

Police immediately cordoned off the city’s broad avenue, which is popular with tourists, and ordered stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. People were asked to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene.

A few hours later, Catalan police tweeted: “We have arrested one man and we are treating him as a terrorist.” They said no one was holed up in a Barcelona bar, as had been reported earlier, but began to evacuate stores on the sprawling avenue where people had taken cover.

A regional official later said a second arrest had been made.

Maghrebi Driss Oukabir is alleged to have rented the van that was used in the attack. It is not known if he is one of the suspects in custody. 

Police also said on Twitter that a driver ran into two policemen at a Barcelona checkpoint earlier on Thursday, but the Mossos d’Esquadra force did not indicate whether that incident was related.

Barcelona police later said that a car and its driver were intercepted about 10 kilometres outside of the downtown area where the original attack happened. 

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Maghrebi Driss Oukabir is alleged to have rented the van that was used in the attack. It is not known if he is one of the suspects in custody. (Spanish National Police/EPA)

State-owned broadcaster RTVE reported that investigators think two vans were used — one for the attack and a second as a getaway vehicle.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was in contact with authorities after the van attack. Rajoy said on Twitter the priority was to attend to the injured.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau expressed gratitude for the “solidarity” expressed from around the world.

She also said there would be a minute of silence Friday “to show that we are not scared.” 

Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the centre of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrian path in the centre of the street, but cars can travel on either side.

A taxi driver who witnessed the attack, Oscar Cano, told TV3 the van jumped onto the central pedestrian area at a high speed and swerved from side to side.

In photographs and videos, at least five people could be seen lying on the ground in the street Thursday afternoon, being helped by police and others. Other video recorded people screaming as they fled the van.

Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.

“I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified,” he said.

David Amber of Hockey Night in Canada was also near the scene and confirmed at least one body being covered.

There is a Canadian Consulate in Barcelona. The Foreign Affairs Department urged Canadians in Barcelona to let their loved ones know they are safe and provided a contact number for those seeking assistance.

Leaders react

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the attack on Twitter Thursday afternoon.

“Canada condemns today’s terror attack in Barcelona — our hearts, sympathies & support are with the victims and their families,” Trudeau tweeted.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said that the “the U.K. stands with Spain against terror.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said it was “with profound sorrow and anguish that I have learned of the terrorist attack that has struck at the heart of Barcelona this afternoon.”

He added: “This cowardly attack has deliberately targeted those enjoying life and sharing time with family and friends. We will never be cowed by such barbarism.”

While full details of the crash were not immediately clear, since July 2016 vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of militant attacks across Europe, killing well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

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(Natalie Holdway/CBC)

The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revellers 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.

In recent weeks, threatening graffiti against tourists has appeared in Barcelona, which draws at least 11 million visitors a year.

In one video released under the slogan “Tourism kills neighbourhoods,” several hooded individuals stopped a tourist bus in Barcelona, slashed the tires and spray-painted the windscreen.

The deadliest recent attack in Spain was in March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.

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