Six months since terrorism struck Catalonia
A memorial will be put up at the site of the attack on Barcelona’s La Rambla for the first anniversary
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.
“It seems that there was a terror cell ready to attack in Catalonia”
Joaquim Forn · Catalan home affairs minister
After 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, six months after terrorism struck Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council is still cleaning and cataloguing the messages that citizens wrote and left at the site of the attack. They later plan to digitize them and display them on a website. Both Barcelona and Cambrils are planning to put up a memorial commemorating 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.”
However, this warning put the coordination between the Catalan and Spanish police departments in the spotlight. The chief of the Catalan police said that when international police forces communicate with Spanish law enforcement agencies, part of the information they provided did not “flow” properly. According to Trapero, information entered through “a little window controlled by the Spanish police,” and some details are not dutifully passed on to Catalonia’s police.
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 Castellón for drug trafficking. However, the imam had already been linked to jihadism before the attacks in Catalonia: his phone number was found on the mobiles of detainees connected to the 2004 Madrid bombings that killed 192 people and injured 22,000.
The town where most of the suspects lived, Ripoll, demanded an explanation, and urged the Spanish government, as well as the CNI, to take action and “assume responsibilities” over the issue. Yet CNI sources pointed out that it is common practice when police detect evidence relating to jihadist terrorism.
Almost half a year after the attacks, the Ripoll City Council asked to take part in the trial over the August attacks, and claimed that it will keep going “until the end” to find out the nature of the relationship between the CNI and Es Satty. Yet, the council is still waiting for the judge’s response.
Beyond the controversies over the attacks, now, six months later, Barcelona and Cambrils are still looking for the best way to remember those days when terrorism struck Catalonia. Both cities plan to put up a memorial in the coming months.