Police have shot and killed five people wearing fake bomb belts who staged a car attack in a seaside resort in Spain’s Catalonia region hours after a van ploughed into pedestrians on a busy Barcelona promenade, killing at least 13 people and injuring over 100 others.
A seven-year-old Australian boy missing and his mother is among four other Australians injured in the Barcelona attack.
Authorities said the back-to-back vehicle attacks – as well as an explosion earlier this week elsewhere in Catalonia- are connected and the work of a large terrorist group.
Three people have been arrested, but the driver of the van used in the Barcelona attack remains at large
Spain’s security forces have named him as Moussa Oukabir, the teenage brother of one of those arrested.
Authorities were still reeling from Thursday’s Barcelona attack when police in the popular seaside town of Cambrils, about 130 kilometres to the south, fatally shot five people near the town’s boardwalk who had ploughed into a group of tourists and locals. Six people, including a police officer, were injured, though it wasn’t clear how badly.
Catalonia’s interior minister, Joaquim Forn, told Onda Cero radio that the five suspects killed in a subsequent shootout with police were wearing fake bomb belts.
“They were fakes, but very well made, and it wasn’t until the bomb squad carried out the controlled explosion of one that they could determine they were fakes,” he said.
The Cambrils attack came hours after a white van veered onto Barcelona’s picturesque Las Ramblas promenade and mowed down pedestrians, zig-zagging down the strip packed with locals and tourists from around the world.
Forn, told local radio RAC1 the Cambrils attack “follows the same trail. There is a connection.”
He told Onda Cero that the Cambrils and Barcelona attacks were being investigated together, as well as a Wednesday night explosion in the town of Alcanar in which one person was killed.
“We are not talking about a group of one or two people, but rather a numerous group,” he said.
The Barcelona attack at the peak of Spain’s tourist season left victims sprawled across the street, spattered with blood and writhing in pain from broken limbs. Others were ushered inside shops by officers with their guns drawn or fled in panic, screaming and carrying young children in their arms.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, saying in a statement on its Aamaq news agency that the attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State” in response to the extremist group’s calls for followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive it from Syria and Iraq.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the killings a “savage terrorist attack” and said Spaniards “are not just united in mourning, but especially in the firm determination to beat those who want to rob us of our values and our way of life.”
By Friday morning, the promenade had reopened to the public, and neighbours and tourist were allowed past police lines to go back to their homes and hotels. The city centre remained under heavy surveillance.
Similar vehicle attacks have been carried out at tourist sites in France, Germany, Sweden and Britain.
The bloodshed was Spain’s deadliest attack since 2004, when al Qaeda-inspired bombers killed 192 people in coordinated assaults on Madrid’s commuter trains.