Death roll rises to 14 in Spain terror attacks

By Andrew V. Pestano, Ed Adamczyk and Eric DuVall   |   Aug. 18, 2017 at 8:10 AM
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Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The death toll from two terrorist attacks in Spain rose to 14 Friday, officials said -- as investigators try and find the driver of a van that plowed into a crowd of people in one of Barcelona's popular tourist districts.

In the first attack, in Barcelona's popular Las Ramblas district, a white van hit a crowd of pedestrians in the Catalunya Square, which is a tourist draw. Witnesses said it jumped the curb and crashed into numerous people. Thirteen people died and the driver fled on foot, police said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said two people have been arrested in connection with the attack, though neither is believed to have been the driver, who remains at large. Authorities have not released any information about the motive for the attack. A third individual was killed after a shootout at a police checkpoint outside Barcelona. It was unclear how the man killed was related to the attack.

A second attack hours later in the coastal town of Cambrils, located about 70 miles south of Barcelona, was thwarted by Spanish police. Security officers killed five suspects, some of whom were reportedly wearing suicide bomb vests. Before the suspects died, they rammed a vehicle into a crowd and injured several people. One died early Friday, bringing the total civilian death toll to 14.

Spanish public television network RTVE reported police released a photo of a suspect they said is connected to the attack, Driss Oukabir, a Moroccon national in his 20s living in Spain. They identified him as the person who rented the van. RTVE said Oukabir turned himself in to police after seeing his photo on television and told them a relative had stolen his identification and may have used it to rent the van. Oukibar was being held for questioning, RTVE reported.

"A terrorist attack is confirmed. The terrorist attack protocol has been activated," Barcelona's Mossos d'Esquadra, or Mossos Squadron, security agency said.

After the deadly scene, police escorted groups of tourists who had taken shelter in the churches, shops and restaurants that line Las Ramblas away from the area and back to their hotels. Officials opened public transit to free rides to help facilitate the evacuation.

In the second attack in Cambrils, the Guardian reported that six bystanders and one police officer were injured when they were deliberately hit by a car. Police eventually caught up with five of the terrorist suspects and shot them. Initial reports indicated that four were killed and one was wounded. But the fifth suspect eventually died from his injuries.

A third potential attack 55 miles south of Cambrils in Alcanar was stopped on Wednesday, the day before the carnage in Barcelona. The Telegraph reported that a massive explosion in a house was initially written off by authorities as a gas explosion. But after the Barcelona attacks, authorities believe a bomb might have accidentally been detonated.

The explosion killed one person and injured six others. The house had been occupied for only a few months and police found 20 canisters of butane and propane gas there.

After a tumultuous day of terror on Spain's Mediterranean coast, Barcelona's usually bustling tourist district had fallen silent, with visitors holed up in hotels and businesses closed. Puigdemont, Catalonia's president, declared three official days of mourning would be observed.

A social media account affiliated with the Islamic State said the attackers were their "soldiers," though they offered no proof of the attackers' affiliations or their identities.

One witness said, "Police officers were screaming at people to move back. People were seriously injured on the ground. Within 30 seconds, police vans, ambulances, officers with guns were arriving," the Express reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged the attack on Twitter.

"The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough & strong, we love you!" Trump said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also offered condolences and said the State Department's consulate in Barcelona was working with Americans who had been "affected by these events." He encouraged U.S. citizens in the city to contact loved ones and "let them know you are safe."

"We offer our condolences to the loss of life and the injuries that have occurred to so many innocent people yet again," Tillerson said.

Across Europe, leaders also paid tribute and offered condolences. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the Eiffel Tower would go dark Thursday night to honor those killed. At the Vatican, the Holy See press office issued a statement on behalf of Pope Francis, saying the pontiff is "following with great concern what is happening in Barcelona."

"The pope is praying for the victims of this attack and wants to express all his closeness to the Spanish people, in particular to the injured and the families of the victims," the Vatican said.

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