The only surviving members of the terrorist cell behind the deadly 2017 attacks in Barcelona and a nearby seaside town offered opposed testimonies as they sat in Spain’s National Court dock on Tuesday, with one telling of regret and being intimidated by fellow jihadists, and another two denying any link with the cell.
The main suspects are Mohamed Houli and Driss Oukabir, facing criminal charges worth 41 and 36 years in prison, as requested by the public prosecutor.
Since neither of them is deemed directly responsible for the 16 deaths caused by the cell, including a van attack in Barcelona’s La Rambla boulevard and a stabbing in Cambrils, they are instead accused of possessing explosives, belonging to a terrorist organization, and conspiring to wreak havoc—but not of murder.
Mohamed Houli, the main suspect, invoked his right to silence when asked by prosecutors, but stressed that he had "always" collaborated with law enforcement. Asked by his lawyer if he felt "truly sorry" for his actions, Houli said yes.
Driss Oukabir contradicted police reports which claim he was an active member of the group. He denied ever attending the mosque in Ripoll, in Northern Catalonia, where imam Abdelbaki es-Satty allegedly radicalized and recruited the 10-member cell.
In his testimony, Oukabir refuted being a practicing Muslim and said he was too old (28) to get along with the gang behind the attacks, most of whom were around 20 years old, including Oukabir’s brother.
Only surviving members of the cell
Houli and Oukabir are thought to be the last surviving members of the cell. The ones responsible for the attacks were gunned down by police officers. Es-Satty and another member died in an accidental explosion in Alcanar, south of Catalonia, where the group was preparing bombs. Only Houli survived the explosion, which took place a day before the van attack in La Rambla.
Oukabir was arrested in Ripoll hours after the attack.
The third suspect
Saïd ben Iazza was arrested on September 22, a month after police officers interviewed him as a witness in Vinarós, a Valencian town close to Alcanar. He told officers he knew two members of the cell because they frequented his uncle's butcher’s shop, where he worked. He admitted lending them his ID and a car, but denied knowing that they were going to use it to buy the raw materials needed to make explosives. On Tuesday's trial, he offered the same testimony.
Targets: Camp Nou, Sagrada Familia, and Eiffel tower
A Catalan police officer testified of evidence that the group plotted terrorist attacks of an even greater scale, with targets such as Barcelona's Sagrada Família basilica, the Camp Nou football stadium, and the Eiffel Tower, as suggested by Internet searches and a trip to Paris days before the attacks.
The cell was allegedly planning to use vans filled with explosives, gas cylinders, explosive vests, and grenades.