(MENAFN - Arab Times) FIFTEENTH VICTIM MURDERED IN CAR-JACKING ESCAPE
Policemen and medical staff stand next to their vehicle where Moroccan suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot dead on Aug 21, near Gelida, south of Barcelona, four days after the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks that killed 15 people. Inset: A handout picture provided on Aug 21, by Mossos D'Esquadra's Twitter account shows a security camera's video grab of 22-year-old Abouyaaqoub. (AFP)
SUBIRATS, Spain, Aug 21, (Agencies): A man thought to be the driver in the Barcelona van attack was shot dead by Spanish police Monday after authorities announced he also was suspected of killing the owner of a hijacked getaway car. The fugitive was wearing a bomb belt, authorities said.
Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot when officers confronted him in Subirats, a rural area known for its vineyards about 45 kms (28 miles) west of Barcelona, police in Spain's Catalonia region said. A bomb disposal robot was dispatched to approach him, police said.
Abouyaaqoub, 22, had been the target of an international manhunt that had raised fears throughout the region since Thursday's van attack in Barcelona. Authorities said Monday they now have evidence that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that plowed down the city's famed Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring more than 120 others.
They said Abouyaaqoub, who was born in Morocco and has Spanish residency, also is suspected of carjacking a man and stabbing him to death as he made his getaway, raising the death toll between the Barcelona attack and a related attack hours later to 15.
Another vehicle attack early Friday by other members of what Catalonia regional police have described as a 12-member extremist cell killed one person and wounded several others in the coastal town of Cambrils. That ended in a shootout with police, who killed five attackers.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both attacks. Roser Ventura, whose father owns a vineyard between the towns of Sadurni d'Anoia and Subirats, said he alerted the regional Catalan police when they spotted a car crossing their property at high speed. 'The police told us to leave the premises and go home. We heard a helicopter flying around and many police cars coming toward the gas station that is some 600 meters from the property,' Ventura said.
Abouyaaqoub drove van
Earlier Monday, regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said investigators have 'scientific evidence' showing Abouyaaqoub drove the speeding van in Las Ramblas and killed the owner of a hijacked sedan on Thursday night. He said the suspect walked through Barcelona for about 90 minutes after the van attack — through the famed La Boqueria market and nearly to Barcelona University — before hijacking the car.
Abouyaaqoub is believed to have made his getaway in the stolen car with Perez's body inside. Perez was parking his car, a Ford Focus, in a lot between 6:10 pm and 6:20 pm. Abouyaaqoub stabbed him before 6:32 pm, put him in the car's rear seats and drove away, Trapero said. Trapero said Perez was already dead when Abouyaaqoub then rammed the car through a police checkpoint minutes later and police opened fire on his car.
The suspect ran over a police officer as the car evaded the checkpoint. About 7 pm, police found the car and Perez's body 3 kms (nearly 2 miles) away from the checkpoint, near Sant Just Desvern, a town west of Barcelona, but Abouyaaqoub was nowhere to be found.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais published images Monday of what it said was Abouyaaqoub leaving the van attack site on foot. The three images show a slim man wearing sunglasses walking through the La Boqueria market. Abouyaaqoub escaped and had not returned to his home in Ripoll, said Trapero. The manhunt for him reached well beyond Spain's borders. Four other suspects have been arrested. Regional authorities said Monday that 48 people were still hospitalized from both attacks, eight of them in critical condition.
Lone attacker on the run
Abouyaaqoub was believed to be the lone attacker on the run by Sunday. Authorities hadn't confirmed his identity because they were having difficulty identifying the remains of at least two extremists who died Wednesday in an explosion at a house in Alcanar where explosives were being prepared.
The explosion destroyed the house, but police found remnants of over 100 butane gas tanks and materials needed for the TATP explosive, which has been used previously by Islamic State militants. Those discoveries, and reports that Abouyaaqoub had rented three vans, suggested the militant cell was making plans for an even more massive attack on the city.
Catalonia's regional president, meanwhile, said regional and local authorities rejected the Spanish government's suggestion to place traffic barriers to protect the Las Ramblas promenade because they deemed them 'inefficient.' Carles Puigdemont told La Sexta television the barriers wouldn't have prevented vehicles from entering the promenade at other points — and he said closing off Las Ramblas was impractical because emergency vehicles still needed access.
On Monday, crowds of people continued to lay fl owers, candles and heartshaped balloons at the top of pedestrian promenade where the van struck and at other smaller tributes. Las Ramblas also regained some normality Monday, with throngs of people walking up and down, tourists arriving and residents going about their daily business. 'We have to stand strong in front of these betrayers, assassins, terrorists,' said resident Monserrat Mora. 'Because Barcelona is strong and they will not be able to prevail with us.'
Europe has experienced around a dozen cases of drivers using a car or truck to plough into pedestrians like last week's attack in Barcelona, but cities have not rushed to mitigate the risks by changing their layout. Concerns about cost, a fear that evolving security threats will make redesigned streetscapes obsolete and a reluctance to disrupt everyday life are among reasons cited by security experts, executives and municipal officials. 'We don't want to be Hebron,' said Els Ampe, Deputy Mayor of Brussels, referring to the city in the West Bank where Palestinians and Israeli settlers are often separated by concrete and steel barriers.
Brussels has 45 hectares of pedestrian zones, including many narrow winding streets, she said, and installing barriers to vehicles on many of these streets would restrict access for people who live, maintain facilities and conduct business there. 'You cannot block every street. You have to live and shops need to have deliveries. We have to have a compromise between security and still living in the city,' she added. Cross-continent data on cities' investment in physical security measures on their streets is not available, but two companies specialising in selling security equipment said an expected sharp growth in their market had yet to happen. Damasec, a Danish company and Avon Barrier Corporation Ltd, from Britain, both make reinforced benches, planters and other street furniture as well as the more traditional bollards and barriers, said sales had increased, but not as much as expected. 'It's growing but it's growing slowly,' said Damasec Chief Executive Henrik Faerch. Avon Barrier's Managing Director Paul Jeffrey said sales were robust in Britain but Europe was 'a bit of an enigma'.
'Nothing much seems to be happening,' he said. Barcelona said ensuring total security was impractical after some residents said officials should have done more to prevent vehicle access to Las Ramblas, a long, wide pedestrian area with roadways on each side where 13 people died in Thursday's attack. 'We can't fill up Barcelona with bollards,' Joaquim Forn, who runs home affairs in the Catalonia region, told Spanish radio last week.
Some affected cities have spent heavily, however. Nice has installed new barriers, changed traffic layouts and taken other measures since a man drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration on its seafront promenade, killing 86 people. The southern French city's wealth is an important factor. 'Nice has invested massively. Most cities can't afford to invest that massively into reorganizing traffic and public spaces, so they are doing it within their means,' said Elizabeth Johnston, Executive Director of the European Forum for Urban Security, a network for local and regional authorities.