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At Least Thirteen Dead, Dozens Injured, In Apparent Terror Attack In Spain

Barcelona Attack

At least thirteen people are confirmed dead, and dozens injured, after a van rammed into a crowd at a tourist spot in Barcelona, Spain in what authorities have already labeled a terrorist attack:

A van crashed into pedestrians thronging a popular tourist area in the center of Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, killing at least 13 people in what the police were calling a terrorist attack. At least 50 were wounded, Catalan officials said, and one man had been taken into custody.

Witnesses described people screaming and running for their lives as the driver of the van wove back and forth, apparently trying to hit as many people as he could. Police officers swept through the area near Las Ramblas, a wide boulevard with a large pedestrianized section, telling people to get out of the area.

“I heard a crowd screaming,” Tom Markwell, a tourist from New Orleans, told the BBC. “It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star.”

It was not immediately clear who was behind the assault, but Islamist militants have staged several attacks in Europe recently involving vehicles plowing into crowds.

The police were requesting that people not pass through the area near Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas in the heart of the city, popular destinations for tourists.

The Barcelona police said they had put in place their protocols for dealing with serious attacks, the Catalan emergency services said that they had asked the authorities to close metro and train stations in the area.

“There has just been a massive trampling on the Ramblas in Barcelona by a person with a van,” the Catalan police said on Twitter.

Keith Fleming, an American who lives just off Las Ramblas, told The Associated Press that he was watching television when he heard a noise, looked out over his balcony and “saw women and children just running and they looked terrified.”

Mr. Fleming said that the street was deserted, with the exception of police officers with guns drawn or in riot gear. “It’s just kind of a tense situation,” The A.P. reported him as saying. “Clearly people were scared.”

American counterterrorism officials in Washington said they were in contact with Spanish authorities to offer any assistance, but underscored that the investigation had just started.

Pro-Islamic State accounts on the Telegram messaging service shared news of the attack. One channel, called “Expansion of the Caliphate,” posted video of the scene of the violence alongside a message in Arabic. “Terror is filling the hearts of the Crusader in the Land of Andalusia,” it said, using the Arabic name for the Iberian Peninsula.

Since the lead-up to last year’s Olympic Games in Brazil, the Islamic State has devoted resources to translating their channels and messages into Spanish.

Although countries like France and Britain have repeatedly been named in Islamic State propaganda urging followers to plan and stage attacks, Spain has been less in the cross hairs.

The country has, however, been a transit point for recruits of the militant group, both for those going to Syria and those returning. The Spanish police arrested nine people in April who they said may have been connected with deadly attacks in France and Spain.

More from The Washington Post:

A driver swerved a van onto a pedestrian area Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, ramming into crowds and leaving at least 13 people dead and more than 50 injured scattered along a stretch of tree-shaded sidewalk. Authorities described the incident as a terrorist attack.

Joaquim Forn, the interior minister of the Catalan regional government, confirmed the casualty toll in a Twitter message.

Some of those injured were in serious condition, raising the possibility that the death toll could rise.

Earlier, Spanish police described the carnage as “massive.”

Spanish police did not immediately give details on the driver or other aspects of the incident.

Regional police arrested one man in connection with the attack, Catalan police authorities announced on Twitter, without offering additional identification. They said there was no hostage situation in a bar in the city center, denying rumors that quickly spread in the confused hours after the van plowed through the crowd.

Cities around the world have been on higher alert for vehicle-linked attacks after terrorist crashes in London, Stockholm, Berlin and other places in the past year.

Islamic State supporters celebrated the Barcelona attack on Thursday and promoted previous threats made against Spain, but the group did not immediately issue a claim of responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has called on supporters to carry out attacks using vehicles. The group has claimed responsibility for car attacks carried out in Europe, as well as on the campus of Ohio State University last year.

(…)

Video posted on social media showed at least four people sprawled on the sidewalk, some apparently not moving. Hats, handbags and other items were strewn nearby. Some people ran screaming from the scene.

The white van that veered into the pedestrians came to stop with its front scratched and crumpled.

“All of a sudden, the police just shouted at everyone, telling them just to run. There was a really loud kind of crashing noise. I didn’t stop to look back,” Ethan Spieby, a witness caught up in the commotion, told the BBC.

He said he was holed up in a church with about 80 tourists and locals. “They have locked the doors, and I think the police are outside. We’re just waiting in here right now to hear more news. It’s quite scary to be caught up in it.”

Andrew Roby, 35, a tourist visiting from Washington, told The Washington Post he saw a small white van that had plowed into pedestrians on the busy central street, lined with bars, cafes and shops. “All of sudden, everyone started running, so we ran, too.”

Roby said he saw several people, apparently wounded, lying in front of and beside the van. “We saw people on the ground. . . . I heard a bunch of people screaming.”

Tom Markwell, another American tourist, told the BBC that he saw a white van “going entirely too fast. It looked to me as if he was going left to right, hitting people with the little stand. . . . All of a sudden, people were just screaming and running.”

Police immediately cordoned off the area in the center of Barcelona. Stores and restaurants were ordered closed.

Las Ramblas is one of the city’s top tourist zones, with a wide pedestrian promenade flanked by roadways on either side.

The bustling avenue in the heart of Barcelona was packed with tourists at the height of vacation season. Spain has been largely spared major terrorist incidents since a 2004 attack on the Madrid commuter train system, but authorities have been concerned about terrorist risks for some time as neighbors were repeatedly struck.

The Catalonia region of Spain has also faced repeated terrorist attacks over decades from the ETA Basque separatist group. Catalonia is planning an independence vote Oct. 1 over the objections of the national government in Madrid, which says it is unconstitutional.

It seems unlikely, though, that this attack is connected to the ETA, other Basque terrorist groups, or the Catalan independence vote. Instead, this attack is consistent with attacks we’ve seen over the past year from apparent lone wolves who ultimately seem to have been inspired or radicalized in some way by ISIS, usually via the Internet, and who decided to rent a van and carry out an attack in an area known to be popular with the many tourists who visit Barcelona. Last summer, for example, a truck plowed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France and killed dozens while injuring dozens more. More recently, there has been a spate of these types of attacks in London, with one in March resulting in three deaths on a bridge within sight of Parliament and another occurring on a June night near London Bridge. In between, the United Kingdom also dealt with a bombing at a concert in Manchester that killed more than twenty people and what appears to have been a copycat attack with a vehicle outside a mosque in London by a person who had previously voiced strongly anti-Muslim opinions. Elsewhere in Europe, in April five people were killed in an attack in Stockholm when a truck struck a crowd in a tourist area of the city. With the exception of the attack on the mosque, all of those attacks were committed by men who appear to have been ISIS

While the identity of the suspects in this matter has not yet been identified, the fact that this attack is consistent with so many others that we’ve seen just this year makes it seems likely that we’re dealing with another “lone wolf” type of attack by someone who was inspired in some way by ISIS. In this case, police have apparently already arrested three people, including both the apparent driver of the van and two others who they believe may be connected to the attack in some way although it’s not clear at this point in what capacity that might be. Beyond that, authorities are being rather tight-lipped and have yet to hold a formal news conference briefing the media about the attack. Until we get those details, of course, we are mostly going by guess work and speculation, but that speculation seems to be well-informed and the consistency with previous attacks makes the likely suspects rather apparent.

Update: Not surprisingly, President Trump was quick to respond on Twitter, much quicker than he responded to the events in Charlottesville last Saturday:

In that second Tweet, Trump is apparently referring to a claim about how General “Black Jack” Pershing dealt with a terrorist problem in The Phillippines during the time that he was in command of American military forces there According to the legend, which has spread widely since the September 11th attacks and most notably among conservatives, Pershing instructed his soldiers to dip their bullets in pigs blood and bury dead terrorists with pigs in some apparent intent to insult their religion. As Snopes reports, multiple historians have debunked these legends and history instead attributes to the decline in terror attacks under Pershing command to a combination of enhanced security and the terrorists simply giving up as American control of the country became a reality. So, once again, our President is lying.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Donnie has finally revealed his plan to defeat ISIS.

    Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!

    They were having terrorism problems, just like we do. And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood — you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem.

    Three problems:
    1 – It. Never. Happened.
    2 – There was no 25 year gap without terrorism, or unrest, in the Phillipines.
    3 – IANAL but I’m pretty sure this abridges due process and would be considered a war crime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. grumpy realist says:

    And as we could have expected, the guy who did this is a domestic abuser.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. barbintheboonies says:

    Why am I not surprised to see so few comments here about another terrorist attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  4. James Pearce says:

    @barbintheboonies:

    Why am I not surprised to see so few comments here about another terrorist attack.

    What is there to say?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. michilines says:

    @barbintheboonies: Tell everyone not commenting here how this attack impacted your life, please, would you? Also, could you give all of us not commenting an indication of how your observation is intended to impact all of us?

    In other words, what’s your point? Just say it. Don’t be shy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. KM says:

    @barbintheboonies:
    What happened to “waiting for all the facts”? Why are you getting pissy people are following the President’s advice?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Franklin says:

    @barbintheboonies: I’m against terrorist attacks.

    There, I said it.

    (You might note that at no point during my pronouncement did I suggest that there are many fine people in ISIS.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Thread’s over. Franklin wins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. teve tory says:

    @barbintheboonies: You guys have a post about the attack, and some comments,but there aren’t enough comments to meet the Patriotism Quota!

    Go back to the boonies, Barb.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. barbintheboonies says:

    People here are so into taking a side even when doing so goes against themselves. It was okay to bash everyone Republican because you link Neo Nazis in with them. I believe you know it is not true, but it helps your insane agenda of winning this losing game. I am not a Republican or Democrat. I want us all to actually get together and say when something is right or wrong on either side. I am sure if you really dig deep you will agree, both sides are destroying us as a once great nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  11. michilines says:

    @barbintheboonies: Your response is political. It has nothing to do with the loss of life. Do you care about the people who died? Did their deaths affect your life?

    It seems that you are more worried about the politics of all this than the impact on people’s lives. Had you cared about the lives lost, perhaps you would have advocated for more bollards but you didn’t.

    It should not matter if you are of any political stripe when it comes to nazis or white nationalists or white supremacists. It also should not matter if you are of any political stripe when it comes to terrorism from any front.

    But people have their hobbyhorses and want to measure their dicks nonetheless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. barbintheboonies says:

    @michilines: You have got me all wrong. I do care about all senseless killings. I just don`t play the same game as most people here. So afraid to speak the obvious. Bad is bad period. Don`t b e afraid to say it. We all want those pat on the back likes. Which is all BS. Get real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0