The terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were the deadliest in the country since the 2004 Madrid train bombing that left 192 people dead. (Robin Utrecht/Abaca Press/TNS)

Spanish police hunting for terrorist cell behind van attack

BARCELONA — Spanish police said on Sunday they are hunting for a fugitive from the 12-member terror cell behind last week’s attacks in Cambrils and Barcelona that left 14 people dead and 132 injured.

The person still at large is Younes Aboyaaqoub, who is believed to be the driver of the rented van that ploughed into pedestrians on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

“It’s clear that we don’t know where the fugitive is. Otherwise we would go get him,” Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of the Catalan police, said at a press conference.

Early Sunday, police said they were closing in on a person related to the attacks, but could not confirm what role the suspect played. No arrest has so far followed.

They also said an operation was ongoing in the north-eastern Girona region and security was increased along the French border.

Trapero said some 120 gas canisters were found in a house in Alcanar, a town about 200 kilometres south of Barcelona, that was believed to be the cell’s bomb-making laboratory.

The Alcanar house exploded on Wednesday, killing two people who have yet to be identified.

“We believe that, for months, they had been preparing terrorist actions from Alcanar, the goal was at least one attack in [Barcelona]. The explosion precipitated this,” Catalan police wrote on Twitter.

Five of the suspected cell members were killed by police during the Cambrils attack, 100 kilometres south of Barcelona, while four have been arrested.

El Pais newspaper reported that the four arrested members of the cell — three Moroccans and a man from the Spanish enclave of Melilla — are expected to be brought before a judge and questioned on Tuesday.
Catalan Interior Minister Joaquim Forn on Sunday said that the terrorist cell had been neutralized through various police actions.

The other three cell members have not been accounted for, including suspected driver Aboyaaqoub.

Police are “almost certainly sure” that two others who are missing, Youssef Aalaa and Abdelbaki Es Satty — an imam from Ripoll who is the suspected leader of the cell — died in the Alcanar explosion.

Hecham Gasi, the father of two of the five suspects shot dead by police in Cambrils, told
La Vanguardia newspaper that his sons were “good, normal kids” and blamed Es Satty for their radicalization: “That man, what did he put in their heads.”

Es Satty served a four-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and allegedly was in contact with those responsible for the deadly terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004, El Pais reported.

The terrorist attacks of Barcelona and Cambrils are the deadliest Spain since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which left 192 people dead.

The Catalan government said on Sunday that it has identified 12 of the 14 casualties, including a 7-year-old Australian boy who had been reported missing.

Four Spaniards, two Portuguese, two Italians, an American and a Belgian were also killed, according to a statement.

The statement said 51 people remained hospitalized, with 10 in critical condition and 15 in serious condition.

A memorial service was held in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church to remember the victims of the two attacks, attended by Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

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