With reports from Roy C. Mabasa
4 Pinoys among injured.
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain mounted a sweeping anti-terrorism operation on Friday after a suspected Islamist militant drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people, in what police suspect was one of a planned wave of attacks.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deadly rampage along the city’s most famous avenue on Thursday, which was packed with tourists taking an afternoon stroll. The death toll could rise, with more than 100 injured, authorities said.
As security forces hunted for the van’s driver, who was seen escaping on foot, police said they had killed five attackers on Thursday night in Cambrils, a town south of Barcelona, to thwart a separate attack using explosive belts.
Six civilians and a police officer were injured in Cambrils when the attackers ran them over in a car, before police shot them dead and carried out controlled explosions. Police said the Cambrils incident was linked to the van attack in Barcelona.
Before the van plowed into the tree-lined walkway of Las Ramblas, one person was killed in an explosion in a house in a separate town southwest of Barcelona, police said. Residents there were preparing explosives, a police source added.
Police said they had arrested a Moroccan and a man from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla, though neither was the van driver. A third man was arrested in the town of Ripoll on Friday in connection with the attack. It was still not clear how many people had been involved in the van attack and other incidents on Thursday.
Witnesses to the van attack said the white vehicle had zigzagged at high speed down Las Ramblas, ramming pedestrians and cyclists, sending some hurtling through the air and leaving bodies strewn in its wake.
The injured and dead came from 24 different countries, the Catalan government said on Friday in a statement, ranging from Franc e and Germany to Pakistan and the Philippines. Spanish media said several children were killed.
Four Irish citizens of Filipino descent were among the more than 100 who were injured in the attack.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not release the names of the four members of the family but said the Philippine Honorary Consulate went to the hospital to check on them.
Based on a report by Honorary Consul Jordi Puig Roches, the mother and her daughter have been released from the hospital but that the father and his son are still under observation and are being assisted by the Irish Honorary Consul there.
The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Madrid and the Honorary Consulate in Barcelona have been in touch with authorities and leaders of the Filipino community to make sure that the 20,000 other Filipino residents of the northeastern Spanish city are safe.
“The Philippines condemns in the strongest terms this disturbing act of terror perpetrated by extremists against innocent men, women and children in Barcelona,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.
“We stand in solidarity with the people of Catalonia and all of Spain and the rest of the world as we fight this common scourge,” Secretary Cayetano added.
ISLAMIC STATE CLAIM
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said: “The perpetrators of the Barcelona attack are soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting coalition states” – a reference to a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.
Spain has several hundred soldiers in Iraq providing training to local forces in the fight against Islamic State, but they are not involved in ground operations.
The Islamic State claim could not immediately be verified.
If the involvement of Islamist militants is confirmed, it would be the latest in a string of attacks in the past 13 months in which they have used vehicles to bring carnage to the streets of European cities.
That modus operandi – crude, deadly and very hard to prevent – has killed well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.