Anger in Barcelona over lax security

Spanish authorities are under fire from shocked Barcelona residents and holiday makers for not better protecting the city’s most famous thoroughfare against a deadly van attack in the heart of a packed tourist haunt.

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Thirteen people were killed on Thursday afternoon when a van driven by a suspected Islamist militant mounted a pedestrian walkway running down Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, mowing down crowds strolling along the boulevard.

It was the latest in a series of such attacks that have killed more than 100 people across Europe in 13 months. In the worst, a truck killed 86 people in Nice last July.

“It was practically bound to happen over here, especially after what happened in Nice,” said Gabriel Rabarte, 50, a security guard at a shopping centre just off the Ramblas. “They should have put some (bollards) there, or something.”

Residents and workers said they had long feared the area could be a target for attacks and questioned why authorities in the city and police had not permanently installed bollards or barriers to stop vehicles from attempting to mow down pedestrians.

Others said authorities had to balance security needs with protecting tourism – a sector sensitive to an overly visible police presence – and preserving the life-style of residents.

Spanish authorities have previously placed concrete blocks to secure vulnerable areas, and Barcelona had temporarily taken such steps in some central avenues during New Year celebrations.

The city had also banned large trucks from accessing central areas in that period, as had Madrid.

In spite of the security concerns many in Barcelona shrugged off fears of attack to pay their respects to victims on Friday.

By midday thousands of people had returned the Ramblas area, gathering in a nearby square, chanting “We are not afraid”.

Police were inspecting backpacks and handbags belonging to people trying to access the area as a precaution.