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Spanish police say driver of Barcelona rampage van identified

Prosecutors in Belgium said he had spent time in the country, without elaborating

AFP | PTI  |  Barcelona 

Barcelona attack, Spain attack
A composite image of suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub, released by the Spanish Interior Ministry on Monday. Photo: AP | PTI

Spanish police said on Monday they had identified the driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona, killing 13, as an international manhunt for the suspect believed to be a Moroccan national deepened.

In a tweet, police in Catalonia said they knew who the driver was without naming him, but regional interior minister Joaquim Forn said in a radio interview that "everything suggests the van driver is Younes Abouyaaqoub."

The 22-year-old Moroccan is believed to be the last remaining member of a 12-person cell still at large in Spain or abroad, with the others killed by police or detained over last week's twin attacks in and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

Investigators have honed in on an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, aged in his 40s, who is among the suspects and is believed to have radicalised youths in Ripoll, a small town at the foot of the Pyrenees.

Several suspects -- including Abouyaaqoub -- grew up or lived there.

Police raided more homes there on Monday morning, Forn said.

Police said the imam had spent time in prison and had once been in contact with a suspect wanted on terrorism charges, without giving further details.

El Mundo newspaper reported that Satty had struck up a friendship in prison with Rachid Aglif, who is serving an 18- year sentence over the 2004 Madrid train bomb attacks, which killed 191 people.

Prosecutors in Belgium also said he had spent time in the country, without elaborating.

The imam has been missing since Tuesday. On Saturday, police raided his apartment. They have raised the possibility that he died in an explosion on Wednesday evening at a house believed to be the suspects' bomb-making factory, where police uncovered a cache of 120 gas canisters.

The suspected jihadists had been preparing bombs for "one or more attacks in Barcelona", regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters, revealing that traces of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) -- a homemade explosive that is a hallmark of the Islamic State (IS) group -- had also been found.

The suspects accidentally caused an explosion at the house on the eve of Thursday's -- an error that likely forced them to modify their plans.

Instead, they used a vehicle to smash into crowds on Barcelona's Las Ramblas boulevard as it was thronged with tourists, killing 13 people and injuring about 100.

Several hours later, a similar attack in the seaside town of Cambrils left one woman dead. Police shot and killed the five attackers in Cambrils, some of whom were wearing fake explosive belts and carrying knives.

IS claimed responsibility for the attacks, believed to be its first in Spain.

First Published: Mon, August 21 2017. 19:03 IST