Spain Extremists Planned Massive Attack08/20 11:46
Police put up scores of roadblocks across northeast Spain on Sunday in hopes
of capturing a fugitive suspect from the 12-member Islamic extremist cell that
staged two vehicle attacks and plotted much deadlier carnage using explosives
favored by Islamic State militants.
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Police put up scores of roadblocks across northeast
Spain on Sunday in hopes of capturing a fugitive suspect from the 12-member
Islamic extremist cell that staged two vehicle attacks and plotted much
deadlier carnage using explosives favored by Islamic State militants.
Complicating the manhunt, though, was the fact that police have so far been
unable to officially identify who exactly is at large.
While police have identified the 12 members of the cell, three people remain
unaccounted for: two believed killed when the house where the plot was being
hatched exploded Wednesday, and a suspected fugitive, Catalan police official
Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters Sunday.
Trapero declined to confirm that Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old
Moroccan, was the one at large and the suspected driver of the van that plowed
down Barcelona's Las Ramblas promenade Thursday, killing 13 people and injuring
120. Another attack hours later killed one person and injured others in seaside
town of Cambrils.
"We are working in that line," Trapero said. But he added: "We don't know
where he is."
Another police official did confirm that three vans tied to the
investigation were rented with Abouyaaquoub's credit card: The one used in the
Las Ramblas carnage, another found in the northeastern town of Ripoll, where
all the main attack suspects lived, and a third found in Vic, on the road
between the two.
Police believe the cell members had planned to fill the vans with explosives
and create a massive attack in the Catalan capital. Trapero confirmed that more
than 100 tanks of butane gas were found at the Alcanar house that exploded, as
well as ingredients of the explosive TATP, which was used by the Islamic State
group in attacks in Paris and Brussels.
"Our thesis is that the group had planned one or more attacks with
explosives in the city of Barcelona," he said. That plot was foiled, however,
when the house in Alcanar blew up Wednesday night.
The investigation is also focusing on a missing imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty,
who police think could have died in the Alcanar explosion. Trapero confirmed
the imam was part of the investigation but said police had no solid evidence
that he was responsible for radicalizing the young men in the cell.
Es Satty in June abruptly quit working at a mosque in Ripoll and has not
been seen since.
His former mosque denounced the deadly attacks and weeping relatives marched
into a Ripoll square on Saturday, tearfully denying any knowledge of the
radical plans of their sons and brothers. Abouyaaquoub's mother said his
younger brother Hussein has also disappeared, as has the younger brother of one
of five radicals shot dead Friday by police during the Cambrils attack.
Everyone so far known in the cell grew up in Ripoll, a town in the Catalan
foothills 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Barcelona. Spanish police searched
nine homes in Ripoll, including Es Satty's, and set up roadblocks. French
police carried out extra border checks on people coming in from Spain.
Neighbors, family and the mayor of Ripoll said they were shocked by news of
the alleged involvement of the young men, whom all described as integrated
Spanish and Catalan speakers.
Halima Hychami, the weeping mother of Mohamed Hychami, an attacker believed
to have been killed by police, said he told her he was leaving on vacation and
would return in about a week. His younger brother, Omar, left mid-afternoon
Thursday and has not been heard from since.
"We found out by watching TV, same as all of you. They never talked about
the imam. They were normal boys. They took care of me, booked my flight when I
went on vacation. They all had jobs. They didn't steal. Never had a problem
with me or anybody else. I can't understand it," she said.
Fatima Abouyaaquoub, sister-in-law of the Hychami brothers and the cousin of
Younes Abouyaaquoub, found it all hard to believe.
"I'm still waiting for all of it to be a lie. I don't know if they were
brainwashed or they gave them some type of medication or what. I can't explain
it," she said.
Islamic extremists have made a point of targeting Europe's major tourist
attractions --- especially in rented or hijacked vehicles. But in the last two
years, the extremist group has steadily lost ground in its self-declared
caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
On Sunday, King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano
Rajoy and other officials attended a solemn Mass at Barcelona's Sagrada Familia
basilica for the victims of the attacks.
The archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Joan Josep Omella, said the presence
of so many people was a "beautiful mosaic" of unity and urged all to work
toward a common objective of "peace, respect, fraternal coexistence and love."
The 14 people killed spanned generations --- from age 3 to 80 --- and left
behind devastated loved ones.
Vancouver police said Sunday that 53-year-old Canadian Ian Moore Wilson was
among those killed in Barcelona and his wife Valerie was wounded.
Fiona Wilson, his daughter, described her father as an adventurous traveler
and thanked those who helped him and her mother in his final moments.
"In the midst of this tragedy, my dad would want those around him to focus
on the extraordinary acts of human kindness that our family has experienced
over the past several days, and that is exactly what we intend to do," she said.
Francisco Lopez Rodriguez, a 57-year-old Spaniard, was killed with his
3-year-old grand-nephew, Javier Martinez, while walking along the Las Ramblas
promenade. His widow Roser is recovering in a hospital.
"We are a broken family," niece Raquel Baron Lopez posted on Twitter.
Other victims included a grandmother, 74, and her granddaughter, 20, from
Portugal who were visiting Barcelona to celebrate a birthday; an Italian father
who saved his children's lives but lost his own; an American man who was
celebrating his first wedding anniversary.
By late Saturday, the Catalan emergency service said 53 attack victims were
still hospitalized, 13 of them in critical condition.