Man arrested after van ploughs into crowd in Barcelona - police

17 August 2017 - 20:44
By AFP and Reuters
Police check the identity of people standing with their hands up after a van ploughed into the crowd on the Ramblas in Barcelona on Thursday.
Image: Josep LAGO / AFP Police check the identity of people standing with their hands up after a van ploughed into the crowd on the Ramblas in Barcelona on Thursday.

A man has been arrested after a van ploughed into a crowd in the centre of Barcelona, police in the Spanish region of Catalonia said in a statement on Twitter.

At least 13 people were killed and dozens injured, the region's interior minister said.

"We can confirm there are 13 dead and more than 50 injured," Joaquim Forn tweeted.

Eyewitness Tom Gueller told the BBC: "I heard screams and a bit of a crash and then I just saw the crowd parting and this van going full pelt down the middle of the Ramblas, and I immediately knew that it was a terrorist attack or something like that."

He added: "It wasn't slowing down at all. It was just going straight through the middle of the crowds."

One of the suspected attackers was killed in a shootout with police on the outskirts of the city, La Vanguardia newspaper reported.

Spanish media had also reported that two armed men were holed up in a bar in downtown Barcelona, with gunfire heard in the area, However, police later dismissed those reports.

Mobile phone footage showed several bodies strewn along the Ramblas, some motionless. Paramedics and bystanders bent over them, treating them and trying to comfort those still conscious.

Around them, the boulevard was deserted, covered in rubbish and abandoned objects including hats, flip-flops, bags and a pram.

"We saw a white van collide with people. We saw people going flying because of the collision, we also saw three cyclists go flying," Ellen Vercamm, on holiday in Barcelona, told El Pais newspaper.

Emergency services said people should not go to the area around Barcelona's Placa de Catalunya, one of the city's main squares at the top of the Ramblas, and requested the closure of nearby train and metro stations.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was in contact with authorities, and the priority was to attend to the injured.

Rajoy said on Thursday he would coordinate efforts to reinforce security.

Rajoy said on Twitter he was en route to Barcelona.

"Maximum coordination to arrest the attackers, reinforce security and attend to all those affected," he said.

The incident took place at the height of the tourist season in Barcelona, which is one of Europe's top travel destinations with at least 11-million visitors a year.

Vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of militant attacks across Europe since July 2016, killing more than 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.


"The US condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help," President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday. "Be tough & strong, we love you!"

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said consular assistance was being provided to Americans in the city, and urged US nationals to check in with their families.

Tillerson told a press conference with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and their Japanese counterparts the incident had "all the hallmarks of yet another terrorist attack".

"We offer our condolences for the loss of life and the injuries that have occurred," he added.

"Terrorists around the world should know – the US and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice," he said.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also expressed solidarity with Spain, saying Britain "stands with Spain against terror".

"My thoughts are with the victims of today's terrible attack in Barcelona and the emergency services responding to this ongoing incident. The UK stands with Spain against terror," the prime minister wrote on Twitter.

The office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday condemned the "revolting attack".

"We are thinking with profound sadness of the victims of the revolting attack in Barcelona – with solidarity and friendship alongside the Spanish people," tweeted spokesman Steffen Seibert.

French President Emmanuel Macron also voiced solidarity with Spain.

"We remain united and determined," Macron said on Twitter, describing it as a "tragic attack" and saying his thoughts were with the victims.


What happened?

  • Around 5pm a vehicle slammed into a crowd of pedestrians on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard.
  • The promenade in the heart of the city centre is one of the city's busiest streets, normally thronged with tourists and street performers until well into the night.
  • Witnesses described scenes of chaos and panic as they tried to flee.
  • Regional interior minister Joaquim Forn said 13 people had died and more than 50 were injured.

The suspect

  • Police in the Spanish region of Catalonia where Barcelona is located said on Twitter they had arrested one man and were treating the incident as a "terrorist attack".
  • Initially a police source said one suspect had fled to a nearby bar, but this was later denied.
  • One witness told Spain's TVE television he saw the suspect when the van stopped.
  • "It was a person in their 20s, he is very young, brown hair, a slim face."

 How did authorities respond?

  •  Emergency services quickly arrived on the scene and cordoned off the area, with several ambulances and police vehicles responding.
  • The city also closed down metro stations in the area, with authorities telling people to stay away from the area.
  • Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he was in contact with the local authorities, saying the priority was to help the victims and facilitate the work of security forces.
  • Police appealed to people to stay in their homes and avoid unnecessary trips.

Previous attacks in Spain

  • Spain was hit in March 2004 by what is still Europe's deadliest jihadist attack, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda-inspired extremists.
  • In July 2015, a hooded attacker opened fire outside a hotel in downtown Barcelona near the Ramblas, leaving two people injured, police said. No suspected motive for the attack was given.