Hunt for Barcelona attack suspect extended across Europe

The hunt for the main suspect in the Barcelona terrorist attack has been extended to other European countries, it has been revealed.

22-year-old Moroccan national, Younes Abouyaaquob, is believed to be the driver of the van that ploughed through crowds of tourists in Las Ramblas on 17 August, killing 13 and leaving many seriously injured.

Police say they are investigating the possibility that the suspect stabbed and killed a Spanish man and stole his car some 90 minutes later. They have set up 800 vehicle checkpoints and tripled the number of officers working on anti-terrorism operations after the attack, but the fugitive is still unfound.

Josep Lluís Trapero, regional police chief, told a press conference that the possibility that Abouyaaquob has escaped to France has not been ruled out.

Joaquin Forn, the Catalan interior minister, played down the risks to the public following the release of a Spanish newspaper containing images of what it said was Abouyaaquob making a getaway on foot after the Barcelona attack.

But the limits of the security forces to identify dangers have become more obvious as it has emerged that intelligence agencies had no knowledge of the 12-man jihadist cell that was originally planning a large-scale bomb attack before an accidental explosion resulted in a change of plans.

Five were shot dead by police during a second attack in Cambrils where a Spanish woman was killed. Four were detained, and of the remaining three, it is possible that two were killed in the explosion at the bomb-making factory in Alcanar, though the remains found at the site are still being tested.

Police have pieced together fragments from the 120 gas canisters that exploded at the house, killing two people. Although forensic experts are still working through them, Catalan police said the explosives found were the type often used by the so-called Islamic State.

The suspected terrorists had been preparing bombs for ‘one or more attacks in Barcelona’, Trapero told reporters.

Another police official said three vans associated to the investigation had been rented with Abouyaaquob’s credit card - the one used in the Las Ramblas attack, another found in Ripoll where the main suspects lived, and a third in Vic, on the road between the two.

Police attention has also focused on Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam of Ripoll. They are trying to establish whether his DNA matches the human remains found after the cell’s bomb factory blew up. Police now say they have found the DNA of at least three different individuals at the site.

It was reported that while in prison for smuggling cannabis, Es Satty met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 dead and about 2,000 wounded.

The Spanish government has maintained the level four terrorist alert that was in place before the attacks. If the highest level were invoked, the army would be likely to be called in to patrol the streets.

Forn said: “[Younes Abouyaaquob] is no longer just being sought in Catalonia but in all European countries, this is an effort by European police.”

Hechami Gasi, father of two of the suspects shot dead in Cambrils, said: “I don’t know what’s happened, I don’t know how to feel, they’re my sons but look at the evil they’ve done. The imam must have put these ideas in their heads. They were good boys.”

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