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Barcelona terror attack: how it unfolded

Unanswered questions still surround the events, such as the relationship between Spain's intelligence service and the alleged mastermind


17 August 2018 07:49 AM


Nazaret Romero | Barcelona

August 17, 2017. It is 4.50pm. A van drives down one of the main streets in the center of Barcelona, turns sharply along one of the roads alongside La Rambla, speeds up and crashes into crowds. In the midst of the tourist season, the van drives 600 meters from one side to the other, along the pedestrianised promenade of La Rambla. Some 14 people die and more than a hundred are injured in the attack. Amid the chaos, the driver steps out of the van and escapes on foot. About an hour later, he kills a young man and steals his car to flee the city.

The day before, a house blew up in Alcanar, in southern Catalonia. The Catalan police quickly link both events, and confirm that what happened in Barcelona was a terrorist attack. In the evening, the first arrests are made in Ripoll, in northern Catalonia. In the early hours of the next day, a car runs six people over in Cambrils, a coastal town 120 km from the Catalan capital. One victim will end up dying.

  • "No tinc por (I have no fear)"

    Spontaneous chant by citizens after the attacks

fter the attack, the Catalan police shoot the five alleged terrorists. Police officers thus prevent what could have been another attempt to run into a crowd with a car. “It seems that there was a terror cell ready to attack in Catalonia,” says the Catalan home affairs minister, Joaquim Forn. The police investigations now point to the imam in the generally quiet town of Ripoll as the mastermind behind the attacks. Yet he was one of the two who died in the explosion in Alcanar. On August 21, the Catalan police confirm the death of Younes Abaouyaaqoub, the man who drove the van into crowds on Barcelona’s La Rambla.

“We are not afraid,” chanted the crowds while gathering en masse to condemn terrorism days after the attacks. Little by little, La Rambla was turned into a memorial. Flowers and messages from the public began to fill the site where the van crashed into crowds. It became a place for the public to express its feelings about the tragedy, to show solidarity with the victims, to condemn terrorism and to say that, despite what the city experienced, they refuse to be afraid.

Now, one year after terrorism struck Catalonia, an online exhibit launched by the city council shows more than 12,000 items left on La Rambla in the aftermath of the attacks.

Controversy over alleged CIA warning of Barcelona attacks

By the end of August, the Catalan police had admitted that they received a warning that ISIS was potentially planning an attack on Barcelona’s La Rambla. Yet, senior Catalan police officer, Josep Lluís Trapero, insisted that it was not from either of the US intelligence agencies. Trapero did not disclose the origin of the warning for security reasons, but said his police force gave it “little credibility.” Indeed, the equivalent Spanish institutions also analyzed and ruled the warning out as “not credible.”

The controversy on the coordination between the Catalan and Spanish police departments has been dragged since now, with the jailed Catalan leaders denouncing "lack of collaboration" from Spain during that episode this week.

Terrorist cell ringleader working with Spanish intelligence

Abdelbaki Es Satty worked as an imam in the town of Ripoll, in northern Catalonia. At the same time, he was the ringleader of the terrorist cell planning an attack in Catalonia and was the mastermind behind the August attacks. After the attacks, it came to light that some of those who carried out the attacks were from Ripoll, and attended the mosque where Es Satty worked as the imam. All police investigations pointed to him as the main suspect for the terror attacks. Yet, he was one of the people found dead after the house in Alcanar blew up.

Exactly three months after the attacks, Spanish intelligence (CNI) admitted that the man suspected as the mastermind behind the August attacks worked as an informant for the intelligence agency. When he collaborated with the CNI, Es Satty was in prison in Castelló for drug trafficking. Yet in August 2018 the Spanish prosecutor's office denied him being informant for the CNI. Their relationship is still an unsolved question.  

Despite the controversies on the CNI and the cooperation between Catalan and Spanish security corps, Barcelona and the whole of Catalonia is remembering these days the events with the local, Catalan and Spanish top authorities, including the King of Spain. Something that has brought itself more controversy in the past few days.


  • A banner reading “Catalonia, land of peace” (by ACN)

  • A banner reading “Catalonia, land of peace” (by ACN)