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Terrorists aimed to carry out a bigger massacre in Barcelona

The state of the house in Alcanar after the explosion.
The state of the house in Alcanar after the explosion. / EFE
  • A road accident prevented a vehicle rampage attack through crowds in Cambrils at the same time as the Barcelona massacre

Investigations into the terror attacks that killed 15 and left more than 100 injured in Catalonia last week have revealed that the scenario could have been much worse.

Eight suspected members of the terrorist cell behind the attacks in Barcelona - where crowds were mown down in the tourist-packed Las Ramblas area - and Cambrils - where six were injured and a woman killed - are dead, while four men were arrested by police and appeared in court for questioning this week.

During the interrogation the court learned that the terrorists had planned to explode bombs at important tourist spots in the city.

A series of accidents thwarted their plans, however, and the attacks that finally took place were in fact the terrorists’ plan C.

The young men suspected of carrying out the attacks had been indoctrinated in just months by an imam believed to be behind the attacks, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who was based in the town of Ripoll where several of the suspects lived. The group met at an abandoned building in Riudecanyes, where half-burned passports were found on the remains of a bonfire this week.

Explosion

It was not until after the attack in Barcelona on Thursday last week, however, that police linked an explosion the previous night at a house in Alcanar, in the province of Tarragona, with the terrorists. The house, which the group occupied as squatters, was being used as an explosives laboratory to make the bombs the terrorists were planning to use in what could have been the most horrific chain of terror attacks in Europe in recent years.

Two people died in the explosion, the imam and Youssef Aalla, while a third man, Mohamed Houli Chemlal, was injured. Houli Chemlal is one of the four survivors who revealed more details of the plans in court.

After the explosion, the group turned to a plan B which involved two simultaneous terror rampages using rented vans in Las Ramblas in Barcelona and on the seafront in Cambrils on Thursday last week.

The first of the vans reached its destination and ploughed into pedestrians killing 13 and injuring many more of numerous nationalities. This van was driven by Younes Abouyaaqoub, who was not tracked down until Monday when, wearing a fake explosive belt, he was shot dead by police.

Accident

The second van, driven by Mohamed Hichamy, was involved in an accident on the AP-7 near Cambrils. Hichamy fled the scene on foot and joined his companions in Riudecanyes.

Flowers and candles as a tribute to victims in Barcelona.

Flowers and candles as a tribute to victims in Barcelona. / EFE

This led to their third plan. Hichamy and four others, armed with knives and an axe that they had bought in a shop that evening, and wearing fake explosive belts, travelled to Cambrils in an Audi A3. The car’s owner, Mohamed Aalla, has since been arrested and released on bail.

Once at the seafront the five drove into pedestrians and crashed into a police car. They injured six and stabbed one woman causing fatal injuries, before being shot dead by police.

Grief

Thousands of people, headed by King Felipe, came together to express their grief last Friday following the terror attacks. The crowds paid tribute to the victims with a minute’s silence followed by two minutes of applause and cries of “No tinc por” - “I’m not afraid” in Catalan.

The demonstration in the Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona was also attended by Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy, deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, and leaders of the country’s main political parties. They stood alongside the president of the Catalonian government, Carles Puigdemont, his ministers and the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau.

Similar gatherings took place in Madrid and throughout Spain. A minute’s silence was held outside town halls along the Costa del Sol.

Thousands are expected to turn out for a march against terrorism this Saturday in Barcelona.