Van plows into crowd in Barcelona terror attack, leaving 13 dead and 100 injured
BARCELONA, Spain (AP/SBG) — ISIS has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in which a white van jumped the sidewalk Thursday in Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas district, swerving side to side as it plowed through a summer crowd of tourists and residents.
Catalan police confirmed that 13 people were killed and at least 100 were wounded in the attack.
Senior police official Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters this was "clearly a terror attack intended to kill as many people as possible."
According to the SITE Intel Group, ISIS took credit for the attack through its Amaq News Agency hours afterward.
Catalan police have confirmed two arrests have been made in connection with the attack, a Spanish national from Melilla and a Moroccan, but they do not believe the driver of the van is in custody.
Investigators also now believe the attack is linked to an explosion on Wednesday in Alcanar that left one person dead.
Following the attack, a driver ran over two police officers at a checkpoint in the city, but it was not immediately clear if it was connected.
The vehicle was intercepted about two miles from the scene and the driver was shot and killed by police.
It was not immediately clear if that person is the man who was arrested.
President Donald Trump has condemned the attack and pledged whatever support the U.S. can provide.
"Be tough & strong, we love you!" he tweeted.
In a photograph on public broadcaster RTVE, three people were lying on the ground in the street, apparently being helped by police and others. Other videos showed five people down and recorded people screaming as they fled the scene.
Police initially cordoned off the broad, popular street, ordering stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. Around 8 p.m. local time, they began evacuating the area as the manhunt continued.
They have asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services.
Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona, is one of the city's top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrianized path in the center of the street, but cars can travel on either side.
Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.
The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked trick to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.
There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March and four men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge and rampaged with knives nearby, killing eight in June.
A man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.
Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.
"I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified," he said.
He said there was a bang — possibly from someone rolling down a store shutter — and more people ran by. Then police arrived and pushed everyone a full block away. Even people leaning out of doors were being told to go back inside, he said.
Fleming said regular police had their guns drawn and riot police were at the end of his block, which was soon deserted.
"It's just kind of a tense situation," Fleming said. "Clearly, people were scared."
Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century place on Las Ramblas that houses government offices and a tourism information center, said the van passed right in front of the building.
"We saw everything. People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside," she said.
Spain has been on a security alert one step below the maximum since June 2015 following attacks elsewhere in Europe and Africa. Spanish police have also been involved in the arrests of more than 200 suspected jihadis since then.
The Catalan government has warned citizens on social media to stay away from the Ramblas area.
Police in Spain have also asked social media users to avoid posting gory images from the scene on social media in order to respect the families of the victims.
Police have been seen on social media searching for the armed suspects. CNN is reporting they are believed to have hidden in a bar after hitting pedestrians.
The U.S. State Department has issued a warning for all U.S. citizens who may be in the area. They're telling citizens to avoid the area and to "follow local media and other information sources for additional guidance."
Speaking in Japan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed sympathy for the victims and urged U.S. citizens in Barcelona to let loved ones know they are okay.
All public festivities scheduled in the city are temporarily canceled.