A manhunt is underway for the driver of a van that mowed through crowds of tourists on Barcelona’s most famous avenue on Thursday, killing at least 13 people in an attack that was claimed by Islamic State.
Authorities said the death toll could rise, with more than 100 people injured, some seriously.
Police said they arrested two men, a Moroccan and a man from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla, though neither was the driver. Witnesses said the driver fled on foot.
Also on Thursday, hours beforehand, a person was killed in an explosion in a house about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Barcelona, in an incident linked to the attack, police added.
It was still not clear how many attackers had been involved. In another incident, police shot dead a man who had driven a car into a police checkpoint in Barcelona, though they had no evidence that this, too, was connected with the van attack.
Witnesses said the white van zigzagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, a busy avenue thronged with tourists, knocking down pedestrians and leaving bodies strewn across the ground.
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said: “The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states” – a reference to a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.
The claim could not immediately be verified.
If the involvement of Islamist militants is confirmed, it would be the latest in a string of attacks in the past 13 months in which they have used vehicles to bring carnage to the streets of European cities.
That modus operandi – crude, deadly and very hard to prevent – has killed well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.
British tourist Keith Welling, who arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday with his wife and 9-year-old daughter, said they saw the van drive past them down the avenue and took refuge in a restaurant when panic broke out and the crowd started running.
“People were shouting and we heard a bang and someone cried that it was a gunshot … Me and my family ran into the restaurant along with around 40 other people.
“At first people were going crazy in there, lots of people crying, including a little girl around three years old.”
It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter he was en route to Barcelona. “Maximum coordination to arrest the attackers, reinforce security and attend to all those affected,” he said.
The Spanish royal household said on Twitter: “They are murderers, nothing more than criminals who are not going to terrorize us. All of Spain is Barcelona. Las Ramblas will go back to being everyone’s.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said: “The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help.”
He added: “Be tough & strong, we love you!” (Reuters)