A wide-ranging anti-terror operation was underway in Spain on Friday after police killed five men wearing fake suicide belts in a town south of Barcelona, hours after a van mowed down dozens of people in the heart of the city.
In the early hours of Friday morning, police intercepted a group of five attackers in Cambrils, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Barcelona. All five were shot dead. A woman also died after being injured in the attack.
Hours earlier, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, a white van careered into terrified crowds on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s feted thoroughfare, when the street was packed with locals and tourists. At least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured. The driver of the van fled on foot and was believed to be still at large on Friday.
Joaquim Forn, the Catalan Interior Minister, said the two attacks were linked to another, previously unreported incident on Wednesday evening when one person was killed after an explosion at a house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona. Police said the victim was a Spanish national.
Speaking after a meeting of government and security officials, Catalan police chief Jose Lluis Trapero said explosives were present in the house in Alcanar. “We are working on the hypothesis that these attacks were being prepared in that house,” he said.
The explosion meant the attackers were unable to use material they were planning to deploy in attacks in Barcelona, Cambrils and perhaps elsewhere, he said.
The attack in Barcelona “was more rudimentary than they originally planned,” Trapero added.
He said police were investigating whether any of those shot in Cambrils was the fugitive driver from the Barcelona attack but that it was not yet clear.
Four people have been arrested, including one in Alcanar and three in Ripoll. It was unclear how many people were involved in the attacks and how many suspects were still on the run.
Sombre crowds gathered Friday morning for a moment’s silence led by King Felipe, the Spanish head of state, at Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya — near where the attack began. After the silence, those present joined together in lengthy applause. “We are not afraid, we won’t forget,” they chanted.
— Police said three of those arrested were Moroccan citizens and another was Spanish. The suspects ranged in age from 21 to 34.
— France is “reinforcing border controls” with Spain as police search for the Barcelona attack driver, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.
— People from at least 34 countries are among the injured, according to the Catalonia government.
— Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy labeled the Barcelona attack “jihadi terrorism.” Rajoy’s government has declared three days of mourning across Spain.
— Rajoy, the Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and other officials have held a crisis cabinet meeting in Barcelona.
Shootout in Cambrils
Details of the incident in Cambrils were still sketchy on Friday morning. According to a spokeswoman for Catalonia’s president, police engaged in a shootout with five attackers after they drove an Audi A3 into several pedestrians. A woman subsequently died from her injuries, Catalan emergency services said, taking the number of dead in both attacks to 14.
It was unclear how the incident began. Photos showed the black Audi, flipped upside down with its windows smashed out, being removed from the scene.
Alex Folch, 28, told CNN he saw the immediate aftermath of the shootout from his holiday apartment on the fifth floor of the Club Nautic Cambrils, on the Consulat de Mar.
He said he saw three people lying on the ground surrounded by police, one with what appeared to be “a metallic kind of belt” around the waist.
Folch said he could see snipers on the roof beside him and later heard controlled explosions conducted by police.
Carnage in Barcelona
The first attack began at about 5 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, in one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist districts.
A white van with blue markings drove into a packed crowd of locals and visitors enjoying an afternoon along Las Ramblas, a predominantly pedestrian area full of cafes, bars and street performers.
“I saw people flying into the air and everyone was running into the shops on either side,” witness Ali Shirazinia told CNN. He saw the van drive past him.
Shirazinia said the driver appeared to be driving “in a zig-zag motion” as fast as he could, trying to hit as many people as possible. “It was just a really, really horrific scene of immediate carnage,” he said.
Thirteen people were killed, with the death toll expected to rise, while about 100 others were injured.
The ISIS media wing, Amaq, has said the Barcelona attackers were “soldiers of the Islamic State,” but stopped short of explicitly claiming responsibility for the attacks or providing evidence for their claims.
A car later ran over police officers at a checkpoint in Barcelona. Trapero said Friday that one of the occupants of the car was found to have been stabbed. He added that there was no link to any of the other incidents.
Explosion in Alcanar
Catalan police said overnight they were “working under the hypothesis that the terrorists taken down in Cambrils were related to the events that took place in Barcelona and Alcanar.”
The explosion in Alcanar on Wednesday night left seven people injured, one seriously, as well as causing the death of a Spanish national.
A house collapsed completely under the force of the blast, a Catalan fire department statement said. Authorities have not yet confirmed what caused the explosion.
One of the suspects arrested in connection with Thursday’s Barcelona attack was detained in Alcanar, Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters.
Shock, fear in Barcelona
Las Ramblas reopened Friday morning but reminders of the previous day’s horror were all around.
In some outdoor cafés, full glasses of beer and sangria sat out on tables, left behind after people scattered. Overturned chairs and napkins were strewn on the street. Waiters were beginning to pick up the pieces as restaurants opened.
Flowers, candles and messages of solidarity began to pile up at a makeshift shrine.
Some shocked residents and tourists had come to the normally bustling avenue to pay their respects to the attack victims.
Resident Federico Colmenarejo, 32, walked along Las Ramblas in a daze. His apartment overlooks the street — and he said a phone call from his grandmother at the time of the attack had saved his life because it had stopped him going out.
“Just to think how is it possible that I cross this street every day on my way to work. I can’t believe it. In Barcelona this never happens,” he told CNN.
The Catalan government said the Barcelona victims came from 34 countries. The first to be identified was an Italian, Bruno Gulotta, who worked in sales and marketing for Tom’s Hardware Italia. He was a much-loved colleague with a partner and two young children, the company said. He had been on holiday in Barcelona with his family.
Belgium’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jose de Pierpont said one Belgian was among those killed in the attack.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that 26 French nationals were injured, at least 11 seriously.