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Police extend search for Barcelona van attacker to all of Europe

© Raymond Roig, AFP | Spanish police officers control vehicles as they cross the border between La-Jonquera in Spain and Le-Perthus in France on August 20, 2017.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-08-21

Spanish police on Monday confirmed they had identified the driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona, killing 13, as an international manhunt for the suspect widened.

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".

Forn said the search for the 22-year-old Moroccan-born man had been extended to other European countries, amid fears he may already have slipped across the border into France.

"This person is no longer just being sought in Catalonia but in all European countries, this is an effort by European police," Forn told Catalan radio.

Police tweeted four pictures of the wanted man, warning that he is "dangerous and could be armed". It asked the public to "share as much [information] as possible".

The suspect 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 Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

Missing imam

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.

'Rajoy seeks a united front against terrorism'

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.

Death toll rises to 15

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 attack in Barcelona -- 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, bringing the death toll to 14. Police shot and killed the five attackers in Cambrils, some of whom were wearing fake explosive belts and carrying knives.

On Monday, Catalonia's interior minister said investigators had formally linked another death in Barcelona to the attacks, bringing the total toll to 15.

Forn told reporters the latest victim was found stabbed in a car that was believed to have been used by one of the attackers to flee the scene.

Catalan justice minister Carles Mundo said all 15 victims have now been identified. They are eight males, including two minors, and seven women.

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

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-08-21

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