Spanish officials have confirmed that 13 people are dead and as many as 100 people are injured after a van struck a crowd in what police believe is a terror attack on the busy, tourist-filled pedestrian street called Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain.
The white van drove into the popular shopping and food district Thursday afternoon, traveling 1,800 feet through the pedestrian area, according to Rac1, a Catalan radio station. The driver and another person fled the scene, Spanish newspaper El PaÍs reported.
The news agency Amaq, which represents the Islamic State, said in a statement that the Barcelona attackers were soldiers of the extremist group. The group often claims responsibility for such attacks. Police have not confirmed whether they have any evidence to support the claim.
Where are the suspects now?
The Mossos d’Esquadra, the police force of the Catalan autonomous region, said it had arrested two people, including Driss Oukabir, in connection with the attack.
Who is Driss Oukabir?
Catalan regional police identified Oukabir Driss, 28, a Moroccan citizen and legal resident in Spain, as the man who allegedly rented the van used to crash into the pedestrians. Police said they were “treating him as a terrorist.”
He arrived in Barcelona on Aug. 13 and had spent time in prison in 2012, according to El Pais.
What are the police doing?
The Mossos d’Esquadra said on Twitter that “the counter-terror mechanism has been activated.”
Officials are investigation Oukabir’s contacts, according to El PaÍs.
Police have also set up checkpoints on the highways around Barcelona.
According to the Associated Press, police sent a bomb squad to the outskirts of the city.
What is Las Ramblas?
Las Ramblas, with its pedestrian friendly sidewalks and endless vendor stalls, is a popular tourist location in Barcelona. It stretches from Plaza Catalunya to the Mediterranean sea port, passing through the city’s famous Gothic quarter.
National police are advising that all people avoid the northern section of Las Ramblas near the Plaza Catalunya.
What is closed?
The Catalan police force has evacuated all locals from Las Ramblas and urged people to stay out of the area.
El PaÍs is reporting that the center of the city is closed to all traffic and many locations have been evacuated, including Plaza Catalunya, Ronda Universitat and Pelayo.
Various metro stations have also been closed, including Paral-lel, Drassores, Passeig de Gracia, Plaza Catalunya and Liceu.
National Police said Clinical and Provincial Hospital of Barcelona remains open and is taking the wounded. People eager to donate blood waited in long lines outside the hospital.
Have we seen similar attacks in Europe?
European countries have experienced a spate of terrorist attacks in recent years, including a trend of vehicular terror attacks, which are difficult to prevent.
In June, three people drove a white van into people on London Bridge in the British capital.
In 2016, a man drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing at least 86. Later that year, one man plowed a truck into a crowd in Berlin, killing 12. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
One of the last major acts of terrorism committed in Spain happened in 2004 when a group with ties to Al-Queda bombed a train station in the country’s capital, Madrid, killing about 200.
Spain has a history of domestic terrorism dating back to the rule of dictator Francisco Franco. The Basque Country terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, more commenly known as ETA, formed in 1959 and is still active today — though the group said it had given up all its weapons in April. ETA was responsible for a series of bombings, including one that killed Franco’s heir apparent.
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