Imam among 12 suspects in Spain vehicle attacks

Catalan Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero said investigators now believe two people linked to the attacks died in a rental house when it exploded Wednesday in the coastal town of Alcanar, 200 kilometres south of Barcelona. DNA tests were underway in an effort to identify the remains.

Police said there are 12 suspects, and that the investigation is focusing on a missing imam who police think could have died in the house explosion. They say Abdelbaki Es Satty may have radicalized the young men in the extremist cell.

Police conducted a series of controlled explosions at the site on Saturday, where several gas canisters were seen outside the house, which was destroyed in a massive explosion one day before the attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

Media reports on Sunday quoted police as saying they found more than 120 gas canisters.

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A picture taken on Saturday shows a building, left, allegedly used as a mosque by imam Abdelbaki es Satty in Ripoll. The El Pais daily, quoting police sources, said the imam could be one of the dead in the explosion of Alcanar, which happened a day before the vehicle attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. (Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images)

Thirteen people, including a Canadian man, died when a van sped down Las Ramblas, a popular pedestrian mall in Barcelona. Another 120 were injured.

A car later plowed into pedestrians in the coastal resort of Cambrils, 100 kilometres away, killing one person before police shot and killed five suspects.

Justin Trudeau on terror attacks in Spain and Burkina Faso0:37

‘These cowards will not win’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on Sunday about the attacks in Spain as well as last Sunday’s shooting at a restaurant in Burkina Faso that killed 18 people, including two Canadians.

“These recent acts of terror are despicable. They seek to divide the global community, aiming to pit neighbour against neighbour, stoking fear and mistrust,” Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.

“These cowards will not win. We will continue to do as we have done, standing united and stronger in the face of hatred. We will be emboldened in our values, values of love and acceptance, and strength through diversity. Friends, in the wake of terror, let us never lose sight of who we are,” he said.

No previous ties to terrorism

The Catalan police chief told reporters at a news conference in Barcelona there were 12 suspects but none “had precedents that linked them to terrorism, including the imam.”

He said one theory is that the group had been planning one or more attacks with explosives in Barcelona. He added officials have no concrete evidence about how a group of young men in the northeastern town of Ripoll were radicalized, though police say Es Satty may have been involved.

Authorities said the attacks were the work of a cell that had been plotting from the house for more than six months. The group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

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A police officers walks near several gas canisters near a destroyed house in Alcanar during a search on Friday linked to the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks. (Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Es Satty in June abruptly quit working at a mosque in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, and has not been seen since.

His former mosque denounced the deadly attacks and weeping relatives marched into a Ripoll square on Saturday, tearfully denying any knowledge of the radical plans of their sons and brothers.

Police are also still searching for Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan. His mother says his younger brother, Hussein, has disappeared, as has the younger brother of one of five radicals slain by police during the Cambrils attack.

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Officers block a road near Alcanar on Sunday as part of an operation to find a suspect of Barcelona’s attack. Police said they had cast a dragnet for 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub. (Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Everyone so far known in the cell grew up in Ripoll, a town in the Catalan foothills about 100 kilometres north of Barcelona.

Spanish police have searched nine homes in Ripoll, including Es Satty’s, and set up roadblocks. French police carried out extra border checks on people coming in from Spain on the belief that Abouyaaquoub may cross into France or has already.

Even with Abouyaaquoub and others at large, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido declared the cell “broken” Saturday. In addition to the five killed by police, four suspects were in custody. He said there was no new imminent threat of attack.

By late Saturday, the Catalan emergency service said 53 attack victims still remained hospitalized, 13 of them in critical condition.

Victims remembered

Dignitaries attended a church service in Barcelona on Sunday for victims of the vehicle attacks in Spain as investigators reported suspicions that 12 members of a terror cell were involved in the plot.

King Felipe VI of Spain and his wife, Letizia, arrived for the mass at Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, along with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont.

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