As COVID wards fill again, Spanish doctor warns young they’re vulnerable

By Nacho Doce

BARCELONA (Reuters) – A week ago, the COVID-19 hospital ward in Barcelona where doctor Inmaculada Lopez Montesinos works had just a few patients.

Now it is full and the Hospital del Mar has opened two extra floors for such patients as a surge in infection driven by the more contagious Delta variant rips through Spain’s mostly younger, unvaccinated population.

Although mortality is much lower than in earlier waves of the pandemic, Lopez Montesinos said hospitals like hers were under growing pressure. She attributes this sudden jump in cases to a lifting of restrictions across Spain over the past few months, a rise in tourism and students’ summer break.

“All this has been an explosive cocktail that has led us to this fifth wave that has surprised us in mid-July,” the 34-year-old told Reuters, pleading for people to avoid crowds, keep social interactions to a minimum and use face masks.

Facing Spain’s highest 14-day infection rate of 1,068 cases per 100,000 people, more than double the national average, regional authorities in Catalonia, where Barcelona is located, said on Wednesday they would reimpose a curfew on 158 municipalities.

Lopez Montesinos said the typical patient she was seeing was aged 40 or below, did not have pre-existing conditions and was either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

The doctor is not the only one with the words of warning.

Wearing an oxygen mask, Cesar Lopez, a 35-year-old Barcelona businessman, said that before being admitted to the hospital two weeks ago he felt so bad he even thought of leaving a farewell note to his family.

“I would like to tell you that this is something very serious … I also thought that it could be just a cold or a flu but you have to take this really seriously, get vaccinated, think about others,” he said.

“Unfortunately there will be lots of people who won’t be able to tell this tale.”

(Reporting by Nacho Doce, Writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Alison Williams)

Spain reports first coronavirus case on mainland, hotel in Canaries locked down

By Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain discovered its first case of the coronavirus on the mainland on Tuesday after a four-star hotel in the Canary Islands was locked down for tests when a guest, and then his wife, were found to be infected.

The government said a woman from Barcelona had tested positive for the virus after a recent trip to northern Italy, which has reported more than 280 cases.

Earlier, government spokeswoman Maria Montero said that the guests in the Canary Islands hotel would “stay at the hotel until this second test and, depending on the results, appropriate health measures will be taken”.

The H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife would not comment, a receptionist at the Barcelona-based company managing the hotel said.

Guest Christopher Betts said over the phone from his room that there were police cars stationed at all entrances.

“We’re told we’re in quarantine due to an Italian doctor testing for the coronavirus. The hotel seems to be acting normally, except that we cannot go out,” he said.

Spanish health authorities said they would test hotel guests and staff. Late on Monday, they had said an Italian doctor on holiday in Tenerife had tested positive.

His wife tested positive on Tuesday, the regional government said.

The hotel has capacity for hundreds of guests, several restaurants and swimming pools, and is located 50 meters from the beach.

Media have said there are about 1,000 people there. On its Facebook page, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace said it planned a carnival party on Thursday evening.

Tens of thousands are expected this week in the Canary Islands for carnival festivities.

The Italian man and his wife were now in isolation in hospital. Before Monday, Spain had identified two cases – a German tourist in La Gomera, another Canary Island, and a British man in Mallorca.

Betts, a British national from Leicestershire, said guests had been allowed to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

“We were originally told to go back to our rooms after breakfast, but we haven’t done so, and everyone else seems to be talking around reception as normal. But unfortunately no one has any more information as yet, they’re all waiting for the health authorities.”

He said he had not been tested for the virus yet and had missed his flight home.

Hotel employees were wearing masks, but none was provided to the guests, Betts said. Video he provided from inside the hotel showed people carrying on normally, except for the masks.

Other hotel staff were waiting outside on the parking lot, unable to get into the hotel, footage shows.

(Additional reporting by Joan Faus, Paola Luelmo, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Nick Macfie)

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world
(Reuters) – Another day, another protest.

On Monday it was Bolivia – angry people clashed with police after the political opposition said it had been cheated in an election won by incumbent President Evo Morales.

Last week, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos, as demonstrators enraged by a hike in public transport fares looted stores, set a bus alight and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies that had been in place for decades.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months, Lebanon’s capital Beirut was at a standstill, parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London at the weekend over Brexit.

Protests have flared around the world in the last few months. Each has had its own trigger, but many of the underlying frustrations are similar.

Globalization and technological progress have, in general, exacerbated disparities within countries, said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, while noting that not all of the current protests were driven by economic concerns.

Digital media has also made people more acutely aware of global inequalities, said Simon French, chief economist at UK bank Panmure Gordon.

“We know that the economics of happiness is largely driven by a relative assessment of your position versus your benchmark,” he said, a benchmark that now stretched way beyond the local community.

ECONOMICS

In at least four countries hit by recent violent protests, the main reason for the uprising is economic.

Governments in Chile and Ecuador have incurred their people’s wrath after trying to raise fares and end fuel subsidies.

As clashes engulfed Quito, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to indigenous leaders who had mobilized people to take to the streets.

Within minutes, chief protest organizer Jaime Vargas had rejected that outreach.

“We’re defending the people,” Vargas said in a live Facebook video from the march in Quito.

His response, visible to millions of people, underlines an added challenge authorities have when trying to quell dissent: social media has made communication between protesters easier than ever.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded Beirut in the biggest show of dissent against the establishment there in decades. People of all ages and religions joined to protest about worsening economic conditions and the perception that those in power were corrupt.

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq in early October.

More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

Security forces cracked down, with snipers opening fire from rooftops and the internet being shut to stem the flow of information among protesters.

GIVE US OUR AUTONOMY

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests over fears Beijing is tightening its grip on the territory, the worst political crisis since colonial ruler Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

There have been few major rallies in recent weeks, but violence has escalated at those held, with militant activists setting metro stations ablaze and smashing up shops, often targeting Chinese banks and stores with mainland links.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and three live rounds at brick- and petrol bomb-throwing activists.

The events in Hong Kong have drawn comparisons to Catalonia in recent days. There, too, people are angry at what they see as attempts to thwart their desire for greater autonomy from the rest of Spain, if not outright independence.

Protesters set cars on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Barcelona, unrest sparked by the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders who sought to declare an independent state.

Demonstrators also focused on strategic targets to cause maximum disruption, including the international airport, grounding more than 100 flights.

That came several days after similar action in Hong Kong, suggesting that protest movements are following and even copying each other on social media and the news.

“In Hong Kong they have done it well, but they are crazier,” said Giuseppe Vayreda, a 22-year-old art student at a recent Catalan separatist protest.

On Thursday, Hong Kong protesters plan a rally to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Spain.

LEADER OR NO LEADER

In some cases, individuals rise to the forefront of protest movements, using social media to get their message across.

In Egypt, where demonstrations last month were relatively small yet significant in their rarity, the catalyst of dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was an Egyptian posting videos from Spain.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, inspired millions of people to march through cities around the world in September to demand that political leaders act to stop climate change.

Tens of thousands gathered in a New York park to listen to her speech.

“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you,” she said. “Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)

Protesters flood Barcelona demanding release of separatist leaders

Protesters flood Barcelona demanding release of separatist leaders

By Sam Edwards

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters clogged one of Barcelona’s main avenues on Saturday to demand the release of separatist leaders held in prison for their roles in the region’s banned drive to split from Spain.

Wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels to signify support, they filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches.

Catalonia’s two main grassroots independence groups called the march, under the slogan “Freedom for the political prisoners,” after their leaders were remanded in custody on charges of sedition last month.

The protest is seen as a test of how the independence movement’s support has fared since the Catalan government declared independence on Oct. 27, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fire its members, dissolve the regional parliament and call new elections for December.

An opinion poll this week showed that pro-independence parties would win the largest share of the vote, though a majority was not assured and question marks remain over ousted regional head Carles Puigdemont’s leadership of the separatist cause.

“Look at all the people here,” said 63-year-old Pep Morales. “The independence movement is still going strong.”

Barcelona police said about 750,000 people had attended, many from across Catalonia. The protesters carried photos with the faces of those in prison, waved the red-and-yellow striped Catalan independence flag and shone lights from their phones.

The Spanish High Court has jailed eight former Catalan government members, along with the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, while investigations continue.

The High Court last week issued arrest warrants on charges of rebellion and sedition for Puigdemont, who flew to Brussels after being deposed, and four other former government members who went with him.

“Your light reaches us in Brussels and illuminates the path we must keep following,” Puigdemont tweeted during the protest.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled to release on bail the Catalan parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell and four other lawmakers, who enabled the declaration of independence by overseeing a parliamentary vote. Another lawmaker was released without bail.

Forcadell left jail on Friday after agreeing to renounce any political activity that went against the Spanish constitution, in effect banning her from campaigning for independence in the December election.

Those terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party has failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the election with another secessionist party, the ERC, denting the pro-independence camp’s hopes of pressing ahead after the election.

On Saturday, the ERC said its leader, jailed former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, would be its candidate in December and he would campaign from behind bars.

Pepita Sole, a 61-year-old pensioner in the crowd on Saturday, said she understood the Oct. 27 declaration was symbolic but now wanted the real thing.

“They better understand that we’re not faking.”

(Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Spaniards take to streets as Catalonia independence tensions rise

People take part in a pro-union demonstration in Madrid, Spain, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

By Raquel Castillo and Sam Edwards

MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people gathered in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday as Catalonia prepared to declare independence, many dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades.

The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long claimed to be distinct from the rest of the country and on Sunday held a referendum on leaving Spain, a vote the constitutional court had banned.

The Catalan authorities say that a majority of those who voted supported a split from Spain, something Madrid says is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

In protests called across 50 Spanish cities, thousands gathered dressed in white and carrying banners calling for peace and dialogue between leaders.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, protesters chanted “let’s talk” in Catalan, while many carried signs criticizing political leaders for not finding a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

“This is producing a social rupture in Catalonia and this has to be resolved through dialogue, never via unilateralism,” Jose Manuel Garcia, 61, an economist who attended the protest dressed in white said.

“I’m very worried. This will end badly and everyone will lose (without dialogue).”

While Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he is open to mediation, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists he gives up the independence campaign, which grew in strength during a near-six year economic crisis, before he will discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, parallel to the “Let’s talk” march, thousands gathered beneath the enormous Spanish flag in Colon Plaza waving their own flags, singing and chanting “Viva España” and “Viva Cataonia”.

“I’ve come because I feel very Spanish and makes me very sad what’s happened,” Rosa Borras, 47, an unemployed secretary who had joined a noisy gathering in central Madrid, said.

Borras, wearing a “Catalonia, we love you” sticker and surrounded by thousands waving Spanish flags, added: “I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan. My family lives in Catalonia.”

EU CONCERN

Rajoy’s government mobilized thousands of national police to stop Sunday’s vote, leading to clashes with would-be voters as they tried to close polling stations in schools and remove ballot boxes.

The police violence drew widespread condemnation and forced the government to issue an apology on Friday, although tensions continued to rise after reports that plans for a unilateral declaration of independence will be handed to the Catalan parliament on Tuesday.

The crisis has also caused disquiet among Spain’s European Union partners and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed it with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EU official told Reuters. [L8N1MI08F]

Concern is growing in EU capitals about the impact of the crisis on the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, and on possible spillovers to other economies.

European finance ministers, gathering in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a regular meeting, could discuss the issue, although it is not formally on the agenda, EU officials said.

The support given in public statements by EU leaders to Rajoy is combined with concern expressed in private about how the Spanish government’s use of police to prevent Catalans from voting last week in an independence referendum could backfire.

Some EU states are worried that talk of Catalan independence could fuel secessionist feelings in other parts of Europe.

(Reporting by Raquel Castillo; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Spain to review police response to Barcelona attack amid questions

Spain to review police response to Barcelona attack amid questions

By Angus Berwick and Julien Toyer

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Regional police in Spain may have missed an opportunity to uncover a militant plot ahead of last week’s deadly Barcelona attack due to procedural errors and a lack of communication among investigators, two police sources and two individuals close to the investigation said.

The errors and miscommunication centered around a major blast on Aug 16, the eve of the attack, at a house where suspected Islamist militants were making explosives, the sources said.

For several hours, Catalan police did not link the explosion to militancy and so no public alarm was raised, before an accomplice drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people in Spain’s deadliest attack in more than a decade.

Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, also took 10 hours to send bomb experts to the scene of the explosion in a town about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Barcelona, the region’s capital, delaying the discovery of the militant cell, the sources added.

The sources declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue or because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

A judicial source said that, as part of the investigation into the attacks, police would look at whether a lack of coordination or information-sharing had contributed to the delay in discovering links between militancy and the explosion.

The source said police needed to complete the investigation before reaching any conclusions about possible errors.

Mossos chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters on Monday that it was unfair to criticize his force with the benefit of hindsight.

“Now, with all the information that we have, yes, it is easier to make the link, but that’s playing dirty and it deceives people,” Trapero told a news conference.

In response to Reuters questions about the agency’s handling of the attack, a spokesman for the Mossos declined to comment and referred to Trapero’s comments at the press briefing.

INITIAL CONFUSION

According to the Mossos, another suspected member of the bomb-makers’ militant cell, 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, had begun to mow down pedestrians in the central walkway of Barcelona’s most famous avenue, Las Ramblas, at around the time bomb experts determined the real cause of the blast.

A bomb squad should be called immediately to the scene of such an incident given the possibility it could be linked to terrorism, a judicial source said.

The Mossos also did not promptly pass information on the blast to the national police and to Madrid’s Civil Guard, viewed as Spain’s most experienced anti-terrorism force, said sources from both police forces.

Despite the criticism, Spanish and Catalan authorities have publicly praised the Mossos for its response to the attacks.

All of the known suspects are now arrested or dead, with police on Monday killing the van’s driver, Abouyaaqoub, after four days on the run.

“Great job Mossos!” Spain’s national police said on its Twitter account.

The head of Catalonia’s regional government also praised the service.

“I want to thank the Mossos d’Esquadra for their efficiency. They’ve shown great professionalism, in close coordination with the rest of Catalonia and the state’s security forces,” Carles Puigdemont said after Abouyaaqoub was killed.

A Civil Guard spokesman declined to comment on coordination with the Mossos and the investigation. The Civil Guard’s main union said in a statement on Tuesday that they had been excluded from the investigation. The spokesman declined to comment on this.

LOCAL PRIDE IN THE MOSSOS

The sources said the Mossos normally coordinated efficiently with the national police, barring occasional minor problems, and could not explain why these procedures had not been followed.

The Mossos has said it first suspected a gas leak or narcotics laboratory was to blame for the blast, which tore through the house near midnight. Police had noticed butane gas cylinders and acetone, a compound used in laboratories to produce drugs.

Some terrorism experts have speculated that if the Mossos had discovered the presence of militants at the house in Alcanar more quickly, it might have had time to raise the alarm and perhaps even foil the van attack in Barcelona.

Salvador Burguet, chief executive of Spanish intelligence firm AICS, which works with anti-terrorism authorities in several countries, said police “could have linked the explosion with an Islamist terrorist cell.

“But that didn’t happen, and they lost a lot of time,” said Madrid-based Burguet, adding that his remarks were based on information he gathered from his own police sources.

Had police immediately sent the bomb squad to the Alcanar house, Burguet said, they would have quickly detected signs of Islamic State’s signature explosive, TATP, and the coffee filters used to strain the solution.

The Mossos says it now believes explosives accidentally ignited, killing two of the three militants inside the house.

They belonged to what police have said was a 12-member cell which decided after the explosion on a less elaborate attack than the one they were apparently planning: drive a rented van into the Las Ramblas crowds and stage a similar attack in the coastal resort of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.

On Tuesday, a Spanish judge ruled that one of the four arrested suspects be released on certain conditions, while another remain in police custody pending further investigation. The judge jailed the other two.

In Cambrils, a car rammed passers-by and its occupants got out and tried to stab people. The five assailants, who were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts, were shot dead by police. A Spanish woman was killed in that attack.

Islamic State, the militant group under siege in Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for both attacks, although its direct involvement has yet to be established.

Catalonia’s government, which plans to hold a referendum on independence in October, says the Mossos are capable of acting effectively without the central government’s help.

In the past, Catalonia’s government and police have bristled at the fact that the Mossos has been excluded from international meetings on terrorism because they are not a national force.

Since the attack, the Catalan and national governments have sought to put aside the issue of independence to present a united front, although a day after the attack, national and Catalan authorities held separate crisis meetings.

Barcelona residents have expressed pride in the Mossos, sometimes applauding uniformed officers spontaneously in the street. The Mossos officers will lead an anti-terrorism demonstration on Saturday in place of Catalan politicians.

(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Mike Collett-White)

Barcelona cell planned big bomb attack, suspect tells court

Catalan Mossos D'Esquadra officers leave the scene where Younes Abouyaaqoub, the man suspected of driving the van that killed 13 people in Barcelona last week, was killed by police in Subirats, Spain, August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

By Adrian Croft

MADRID (Reuters) – An alleged member of an Islamist cell suspected of carrying out last week’s deadly Barcelona van attack told a Spanish court on Tuesday that the group had been planning a much bigger strike using explosives, a judicial source said.

The testimony to a closed hearing at Spain’s High Court came from Mohamed Houli Chemlal, one of four detained suspects brought to Madrid to testify for the first time in court about the plot.

Two of the suspects told the court that Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam in the small town in northeastern Spain where many of the group came from, was the instigator, the source said, adding that the public prosecutor had asked the judge to send all four to jail while investigations continued.

El Mundo newspaper said Chemlal told the court that the group planned to attack architect Antoni Gaudi’s landmark Sagrada Familia church and other Barcelona monuments but this could not be immediately confirmed.

Chemlal was arrested after being hurt in a blast at a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, a day before Thursday’s van attack on the crowded Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona, which left a trail of 13 dead and 120 injured people from 34 countries.

The 21-year-old arrived at court wearing hospital-issue pyjamas, with a bandaged hand and cuts to his face and bare ankles.

Police found 120 butane gas canisters and traces of a home-made explosive in the rubble of the house at Alcanar, where they say two of the plotters were killed. They believe that the accidental explosion led the group to abandon plans for a bomb attack and to stage a vehicle assault instead.

Tuesday’s court hearing was the first in a long legal process, and it could be months or even years before the case is brought to a full trial.

The four are the only alleged members of the group still alive after the driver of the van that plowed through the crowd in Barcelona, 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, was shot and killed by police on Monday.

RESORT ATTACK

In little more than a year, Islamist militants have used vehicles as weapons to kill nearly 130 people in France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and now Spain.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the latest attack and a separate deadly assault, hours later, in the coastal resort of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.

In Cambrils, a car rammed passers-by and its occupants got out and tried to stab people. The five assailants, who were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts, were shot dead by police, while a Spanish woman died in the attack.

Most of the 12 suspects lived in the town of Ripoll, set in forested hills beneath the Pyrenees north of Barcelona, and most were young men of Moroccan descent.

The four suspects in court on Tuesday were questioned one-by-one by the investigating judge, Fernando Andreu.

Driss Oukabir, 28, whose passport was found in the abandoned van after the Barcelona attack, has maintained his innocence. He told the court that he rented vans used in the attack but believed they were for a house move, according to Europa Press news agency.

Also in court were Mohammed Aalla, 27, owner of the Audi car used in the Cambrils attack, and Salah el Karib, 34, who ran an internet cafe in Ripoll that, according to La Vanguardia newspaper, was used to send money to Morocco.

No charges against the men have yet been specified.

Es Satty, the Ripoll imam who police suspect radicalized the young men, is believed to have died in the Alcanar explosion.

An investigation into whether the cell had international links goes on, police have said.

La Vanguardia said Moroccan authorities had arrested a man who had been in touch with Moussa Oukabir, one of the suspects killed by police in Cambrils, and may have played a role in connecting the Catalan cell with Islamic State.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb on Tuesday confirmed press reports that the Audi used in the Cambrils attack had been caught on camera speeding in the Paris region days before the Catalonia attacks.

But he told BFM TV that French authorities had been unaware of the existence of the Catalan cell, saying they were “exclusively Spanish”.

BFM TV later reported that it had been Abouyaaqoub and an accomplice who traveled to the Paris region the weekend of Aug. 12-13, staying overnight at a hotel.

Spanish police have sought information from Belgian authorities on a visit the imam, Es Satty, made there last year.

(Additional reporting by Julien Toyer, Inmaculada Sanz and Carla Raffin and Richard Lough in Paris; Editing by Julien Toyer and Mark Trevelyan)

Spain hunts for driver in van rampage, says Islamist cell dismantled

A man lights a candle at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, August 19, 2017

By Angus Berwick and Andrés González

RIPOLL/BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) – Police were searching on Saturday for the driver of a van that killed 13 people when it plowed into a crowd in Barcelona and were trying to determine whether two other suspected Islamist militants linked to the attack had died or were at large.

The Spanish government said it considered it had dismantled the cell behind Thursday’s Barcelona rampage and an attack early on Friday in the Catalan seaside town of Cambrils.

Police arrested four people in connection with the attacks Barcelona and Cambrils, where a woman was killed when a car rammed passersby on Friday. Five attackers wearing fake explosive belts were also shot dead in the Catalan town.

“The cell has been fully dismantled in Barcelona, after examining the people who died, the people who were arrested and carrying out identity checks,” Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told a news conference.

But authorities have yet to identify the driver of the van and his whereabouts are unclear, while police and officials in the northeastern region of Catalonia said they still needed to locate up to two other people.

Investigators are focusing on a group of at least 12 suspects believed to be behind the deadliest attacks to hit Spain in more than a decade.

In little more than a year, militants have used vehicles as weapons to kill nearly 130 people in France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Spain.

None of the nine people arrested or shot dead by police are believed to be the driver who sped into Las Ramblas, leaving a trail of dead and injured among the crowds of tourists and local residents strolling along the Barcelona boulevard.

A Moroccan-born 22-year-old called Younes Abouyaaqoub was among those being sought, according to the mayor’s office in the Catalan town of Ripoll, where he and other suspects lived.

Spanish media reported that Abouyaaqoub may have been the driver of the van in Barcelona, but police and Catalan officials could not confirm this.

The driver in the Barcelona attack abandoned the van and fled on foot on Thursday after plowing into the crowd. Fifty people were still in hospital on Saturday following that attack, with 13 in a critical condition.

Many were foreign tourists. The Mediterranean region of Catalonian is thronged in the summer months with visitors drawn to its beaches and the port city of Barcelona’s museums and tree-lined boulevards.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Cambrils and Barcelona, a statement by the jihadist group said on Saturday.

 

RAIDS

Police searched a flat in Ripoll on Friday in their hunt for people connected to the attacks, the ninth raid so far on homes in the town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees near the French border.

The flat had been occupied by a man named as Abdelbaki Es Satty, according to a search warrant seen by Reuters. Neighbors said he was an imam, a Muslim prayer leader. His landlord said he had last been seen on Tuesday.

Scraps of paper covered in notes were strewn around the flat, which had been turned upside down in the police search.

Three Moroccans and a citizen of Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla have been arrested so far in connection with the attacks.

Apart from Abouyaaqoub, authorities are searching for two other people though it is not certain they are at large.

One or even both of them may have been killed in Alcanar, where a house was razed by an explosion shortly before midnight on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Catalonia’s home affairs department said.

Casting new doubts over the investigation, El Pais said late on Saturday that biological remains of at least three people had been found in the ruins of the Alcanar house. It was not clear whether they could be from the three suspects still sought by the police or if more people were there.

Police believe the house in Alcanar was being used to plan one or several large-scale attacks in Barcelona, possibly using a large number of butane gas canisters stored there.

The Spanish government maintained its security alert level at four, one notch below the maximum level that would indicate another attack was imminent, but said it would reinforce security in crowded areas and tourist hotspots.

Spanish media also said that security at the border with France was being beefed up.

 

TRIBUTES

Of the 14 dead in the two attacks, five are Spanish, two are Italians, two are Portuguese, one Belgian, one Canadian and one a U.S. citizen, emergency services and authorities from those countries have confirmed so far.

A seven-year-old boy with British and Australian nationality who had been missing since the attack in Barcelona was found on Saturday in one of the city’s hospitals and was in a serious condition, El Pais newspaper reported.

Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia on Saturday visited some of the dozens injured whose nationalities ranged from French and German to Pakistani and the Filipino. They are being treated in various Barcelona hospitals.

The royal couple are expected to take part in a Catholic mass on Sunday morning at architect Antoni Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia church, a Barcelona landmark, in honor of the victims of the attack.

Barcelona’s football team will wear special shirts, bearing the Catalan words for “We are all Barcelona”, and black armbands in memory of victims when they play their opening league game of the season on Sunday evening against Real Betis.

 

(Additional reporting by Sarah White, Julien Toyer, Carlos Ruano, Rodrigo de Miguel, Alba Asenjo and Adrian Croft, Writing by Sarah White and Julien Toyer; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Edmund Blair and Lisa Shumaker)

 

Barcelona van attacker may still be alive, on the run: police

People gather around an impromptu memorial a day after a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

By Andrés González, Angus Berwick and Carlos Ruano

BARCELONA (Reuters) – The driver of the van that plowed into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people, may still be alive and at large, Spanish police said on Friday, denying earlier media reports that he had been shot dead in a Catalan seaside resort.

Josep Lluis Trapero, police chief in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, said he could not confirm the driver was one of five men killed.

“It is still a possibility but, unlike four hours ago, it is losing weight,” he told regional TV.

The driver abandoned the van and fled on Thursday after speeding along a section of Las Ramblas, the most famous boulevard in Barcelona, leaving a trail of dead and injured among the crowds of tourists and local residents thronging the street.

(For a graphic on Barcelona crash, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2fOJ9Sm)

It was the latest of a string of attacks across Europe in the past 13 months in which militants have used vehicles as weapons – a crude but deadly tactic that is near-impossible to prevent and has now killed nearly 130 people in France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Spain.

Suspected jihadists have been behind the previous attacks. Islamic State said the perpetrators of the latest one had been responding to its call to target countries involved in a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.

Hours after the van rampage, police shot dead five people in the Catalan resort of Cambrils, 120 km (75 miles) down the coast from Barcelona, after they drove their car at pedestrians and police officers.

The five assailants had an ax and knives in their car and wore fake explosive belts, police said. A single police officer shot four of the men, Trapero said.

A Spanish woman was killed in the Cambrils incident, while several other civilians and a police officer were injured.

Trapero had earlier said the investigation was focusing on a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, which was razed by an explosion shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

Police believe the house was being used to plan one or several large-scale attacks in Barcelona, possibly using a large number of butane gas canisters stored there.

However, the apparently accidental explosion at the house forced the conspirators to scale down their plans and to hurriedly carry out more “rudimentary” attacks, Trapero said.

FOUR ARRESTS

Police have arrested four people in connection with the attacks – three Moroccans and a citizen of Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla, Trapero said. They were aged between 21 and 34, and none had a history of terrorism-related activities.

Another three people have been identified but are still at large. Spanish media said two of them may have been killed by the blast in Alcanar while one man of Moroccan origin was still sought by the police.

Police in France are looking for the driver of a white Renault Kangoo van that may have been used by people involved in the Barcelona attack, a French police source told Reuters.

WORST SINCE 2004

It was the deadliest attack in Spain since March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people.

Of 126 people injured in Barcelona and Cambrils, 65 were still in hospital and 17 were in a critical condition. The dead and injured came from 34 countries, ranging from France and Germany to Pakistan and the Philippines.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said an American citizen was confirmed dead, and Spanish media said several children were killed.

As Spain began three days of mourning, people returned to Las Ramblas, laying flowers and lighting candles in memory of the victims. Rajoy and Spain’s King Felipe visited Barcelona’s main square nearby to observe a minute’s silence.

Defiant crowds later chanted “I am not afraid” in Catalan.

Foreign leaders voiced condemnation and sympathy, including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe’s deadliest recent attacks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after media reports that some Germans were among those killed, said Islamist terrorism “can never defeat us” and vowed to press ahead with campaigning for a general election in Germany in September.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent his condolences to Spain.

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking by phone with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday, pledged the full support of the United States in investigating the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

In a message to the cardinal of Barcelona, Pope Francis said the attack was “an act of blind violence that is a grave offense to the Creator”.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the attack showed the European Union’s system of migrant relocation was wrong. “It is dangerous. Europe should wake up,” he said. “We are dealing here with a clash of civilisations.”

(Additional reporting by Julien Toyer, Sarah White, Andres Gonzalez, Silvio Castellanos and Kylie MacLellan; Writing by Adrian Croft and Julien Toyer; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Lisa Shumaker)

Germany says suspected Islamist detained over soccer attack

Football Soccer - Borussia Dortmund v AS Monaco - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg - Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany - 11/4/17 Police with the Borussia Dortmund team bus after an explosion near their hotel before the game

By Tilman Blasshofer and Matthias Inverardi

KARLSRUHE/DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – German authorities arrested a suspected Islamist on Wednesday in connection with an attack on a bus carrying players of one of the country’s top soccer teams, a spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said she was “appalled” by Tuesday evening’s attack on the Borussia Dortmund bus, in which Spanish defender Marc Bartra was injured.

The incident forced a 24-hour postponement of the team’s high-profile clash with AS Monaco, and officials said security had been stepped up for that game and a second Champions League quarter-final in Germany on Wednesday, between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

Ralf Jaeger, interior minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia which includes Dortmund, said the investigation was looking “in all directions”, and it was unclear if one or several attackers were involved.

The spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutors, who handle probes into suspected terrorism, said investigators had found three letters near the scene of the attack, all with the same content suggesting a possible Islamist motive.

Spokeswoman Frauke Koehler said the letters referred to the use of Tornado reconnaissance planes in Syria, which Germany has deployed as part of the military campaign against Islamic State, and also called for the closure of the U.S. military base at Ramstein in western Germany.

She also noted an online claim of responsibility by an anti-fascist group, but said there was serious doubt about its validity.

Investigators had identified two suspects from the “Islamist scene”, searched their apartments and detained one man, she said.

Football Soccer - Borussia Dortmund v AS Monaco - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg - Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany

Forensic experts search the area where the explosion occurred. Soccer – Borussia Dortmund v AS Monaco – UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg – Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany – 11/4/17 Forensic experts search the area where the explosion occured Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach Livepic

DEFENDER INJURED

The blasts smashed windows on the bus carrying the players to the stadium for the match against AS Monaco. Bartra was operated on for a broken bone in his right wrist and shrapnel in his arm, a team spokesman said.

“The chancellor was last night, like people in Dortmund, like millions everywhere, appalled by the attack on the BVB team bus,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference.

“One can only be relieved that the consequences were not worse,” he said, praising Dortmund fans for offering accommodation to AS Monaco fans after the postponement.

Bartra, 26, joined Dortmund for 8 million euros ($8.5 million) last year from Barcelona, after coming through the Catalan club’s youth system. He has made 12 appearances for the Spanish national team.

European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, said there had been no specific intelligence regarding any threat to any of Wednesday’s Champions League fixtures, which also include a match in Spain between Atletico Madrid and England’s Leicester City.

UEFA “is reviewing the security arrangements for tonight’s matches and security procedures will be enhanced accordingly wherever needed,” it said, asking supporters to allow extra time for the possibility of enhanced checks.

Police in Munich said they were deploying an additional 80 officers and strengthening security around hotels and key routes for the match there.

The blasts revived memories of Islamist militant attacks in Paris in November 2015 whose targets included a stadium where France were playing Germany in a soccer friendly.

Security is among the issues at the heart of Germany’s parliamentary election on Sept. 24, a tight battle in which Merkel is running for a fourth term. In December, a Tunisian man killed 12 people when he plowed a truck through a Berlin Christmas market.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr, Paul Carrel, Anneli Palmen and Jens Hack; Writing by Mark Trevelyan)