ISIS claims responsibility after van slams into crowd on busy Barcelona street leaving up to 16 dead, at least 100 injured

People help injured persons after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing at least 13 people and injuring around 100 others on the Rambla in Barcelona on August 17, 2017. Getty Images.
  • ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility for an attack where a van slammed into a crowd in a busy square in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, with the police reporting 13 deaths
  • Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull says “At this stage, we understand 16 people have been killed.”
  • The police are calling the incident a terrorist attack and have arrested two suspects
  • Police killed four suspected attackers during a counterterrorism operation in Cambrils, south of Barcelona, early Friday morning. Police said they believe the attackers may be linked to the van attack.

Police have two suspects in custody after a van crashed into a crowd of pedestrians in a tourist-heavy district killing at least 13 on Thursday in Barcelona, Spain, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said.

The Catalan police are calling the earlier incident in Barcelona a terrorist attack and have confirmed at least 13 deaths and over 100 injuries, while Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told a press conference his understanding was that “16 people have been killed”. At least 18 nationalities are among the attack victims, authorities said, including three Australians. In a message on ISIS’ news service, the terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, though authorities have yet to confirm a link.

The driver of the van is not among the two suspects who are in custody, the Associated Press reported citing a senior police official. Police are still searching for the driver, who they say is unarmed.

Police initially said the van connected to the attack was rented by a man named Driss Oukabir, reportedly a Moroccan citizen living in France legally. It is unclear whether he is the suspect in custody. El Pais, a Spanish-language newspaper, said Oukabir turned himself into police, claiming that his ID was stolen and planted near the scene.

A driver deliberately rammed a van into a crowd on Barcelona’s most popular street on August 17, 2017 killing at least 13 people before fleeing to a nearby bar, police said. Getty Images.

It’s unclear whether the police have identified additional suspects in the crash. The police dismissed reports from multiple outlets that two armed men had barricaded themselves in a bar near the site of the crash as rumors, though officers were still apparently conducting door-to-door searches as the area around the crash site remained on lockdown for hours.

Four alleged attackers were killed in a separate counterterrorism operation in the town of Cambrils, about 90 minutes south of Barcelona, early Friday morning. Catalan police said they believe the suspects in Cambrils were linked to the Barcelona van attack and a house explosion in the town of Alcanar that happened on Wednesday.

Police checkpoint attack and a house explosion

Reuters, citing police sources, said a second van linked to the crash was found in a small town outside Barcelona. The news agency noted earlier reports from local media suggesting that a second van may have been rented as a getaway vehicle.

A driver of a different vehicle ran over two police officers at a checkpoint in Barcelona, The Associated Press reports, though it’s not clear whether this was related to the earlier attack. Associated Press reports that the driver was killed in a shootout with the police.

Authorities cited by Reuters said a house explosion hours before the van attack killed one person in Alcanar, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Barcelona. Officials say the incident may be connected. The Telegraph reported that police found 20 canisters of butane and propane gas among the rubble.

A chaotic scene

The police said the chaos started when a white van mounted a sidewalk on Plaza de Catalunya, a popular square in Barcelona. The Spanish-language newspaper El País said the driver of the van fled on foot after “mowing down” dozens of people.

“There’s a very heavy police presence and what they’ve been doing is going from establishment to establishment knocking on the doors, knocking on the shutters,” John Ward, a resident of Las Ramblas, a pedestrian-heavy street near Plaza de Catalunya, told the BBC. “Now nobody is moving on La Ramblas unless they’re under police escort.”

“All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming,” Aamer Anwar, who was walking on Las Ramblas at the time of the crash, told Sky News. “I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids.” Other witnesses said the van zigzagged in a way suggesting the driver was trying to hit as many people as possible.

“Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere,” Anwar said. “Then the whole street started getting pushed back.”

“Police officers who got there just started screaming at people to move back, move back,” Anwar added.

Another witness, Steven Turner, told the BBC he saw “three or four people lying on the ground” after the van “rammed” into people.

“There are lots of ambulances and armed police with assault rifles around now,” Turner added.

World leaders respond

The White House has said its chief of staff, John Kelly, is aware of the situation and is updating President Donald Trump. The US Consulate is warning people to avoid the area.

“The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help,” Trump tweeted. “Be tough & strong, we love you!”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a press conference that terrorists would be “brought to justice.”

“Terrorists around the world should know — the United States and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice,” Tillerson said, adding that US nationals in Barcelona should check in with their families.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey tweeted that he was “in touch with all authorities” and said the “priority is to attend to the wounded and facilitate the work of first responders and police.” Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have also expressed support for Barcelona and the victims of the attack.

Pope Francis Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and French President Emmanuel Macron have also expressed support for Barcelona and the victims of the attack.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said on Twitter: “Thank you for the solidarity we have received from around the world. Barcelona is brave and united. Terror will never change that.”

Catalan emergency services have asked to close public transportation in the area of the crash, and they are asking people to stay out of the area.

Vehicles have been used to crash into crowds in attacks inspired by the Islamic State terrorist group across Europe since July 2016, killing dozens of people in London, Stockholm, Berlin, and Nice, France. No group has taken responsibility for Thursday’s attack.

The Spanish National Police have asked bystanders not to share photos of the crash out of respect for the victims, but some have still been spreading on social media:

Pictures show emergency services responding:

Sky News has video of the incident, which the reporter described as “pandemonium.”

A Twitter user also posted a picture of what appears to be the van:

Van barcelona terrorist
The van reportedly involved in the deadly crash in Barcelona. Ricard Belis Garcia/ Twitter

Here’s a map of the area:

Las Ramblas crash map Barcelona

Videos show armed police officers looking for the person or people responsible for the crash:

Here’s a video showing the suspect’s arrest:

This is a developing story.