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Barcelona Terrorist Attack - Part of a Larger Operation

Barcelona Terrorist Attack – Part of a Larger Operation


As global politics continue to shift, Islamic terrorism has become increasingly prevalent in the public spotlight. From the United States to Paris and Brussels, global awareness of terrorism is advancing, whether this attention fuels terrorism or allows for broader prevention.

Whatever the number or frequency of terrorist attacks, each one can leave an impression as profound and unsettling as any other one before it.

Part of the lasting impression created is because attacks are, to some degree, unanticipated and abrupt; outside the status quo. One can occur at any moment, any place – in the blink of an eye – and we would have had no prior knowledge to its existence.


Barcelona Attack

This enduring impression of terrorist attacks continued with a recent terrorist attack on Thursday in Spain, when a white van was rammed intentionally into dozens of pedestrians, killing 13 in the crowd, and injuring over a hundred more.

The attack – one of the worst in Spain’s modern history – occurred in Barcelona on Las Ramblas, the city’s renowned retail-lined Boulevard, which is usually bustling with tourists.

The 13 dead included an American.  A woman, Heidi Nunes, told ABC News that he was her husband of 1 year, Jared Tucker. Others dead were reported to comprise of a Canadian, Italian, Spaniard, and Belgian, among others. According to the Catalonian emergency services, 34 nationalities in total were injured or killed in the incident. 

The van seems to have been driven in a wild, zig-zaging pattern down the Las Ramblas boulevard. Witnesses claim seeing dozens of pedestrians fleeing in panic, and bloodied bodies lying on the street.

The incident is yet another in a recent wave of vehicular terrorist attacks happening Europe, with other attacks occurring in different countries such as France and Great Britain. 

ISIS, the infamous jihadist militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack, though providing no evidence.

The famous promenade was quickly sealed off by authorities, and the driver was pursued, though he remains at large. Joaquim Forn, a Catalan interior official, said that police were unable to arrest or shoot the driver at the time, mainly due to the large number of people on the La Rambla and thus, the corresponding high possibility of collateral damage.

The driver was initially suspected to be Driss Oukabir, whose identification documents had been used to rent the van. However, after Driss was arrested (some police sources say he turned himself in), he claimed Moussa Oukabir, his little brother, had taken his identification and that he had no involvement with his brother’s jihadist activities.  

Authorities suspect the Barcelona attack was executed by the same terrorist cell who was involved in two other incidents, both west of the Catalan capital: a second vehicular assault with a van that took place mere hours later in the town Cambrils, and an explosion on Wednesday at a private residence in a small town, Alcanar. 



Mere hours after the attack in Barcelona, an Audi A3 intentionally plowed into pedestrians along the seafront of the town Cambrils.

Reportedly, the Audi appears to have overturned in the incident.

Police reported shooting five suspected jihadists who had ridden in the Audi, and had carried a variety of knives and axes, as well as fake explosives attached to a belt.

In total, the Catalonian police reported one civilian and five jihadists dead, with five civilians injured (1 severely wounded) from the Cambrils incident.

One of the jihadists killed was Moussa Oukabir, then suspected of being the driver in the Las Ramblas attack.



The explosion at the private residence in Alcanar is suspected to be an accident that foiled a significantly larger jihadist plot. The residence in question was apparently stocked with explosive Butane gas cylinders that police say would have allowed the same terrorist cell responsible for the Barcelona incident to perform what would have been a considerably deadlier operation. 

The Alcanar explosion reportedly killed one person, with the possibility of a second. A large number of gas canisters (possibly over a hundred) were allegedly found, as well as traces of an explosive commonly used by ISIS, TATP.


Current Developments

Younes Abouyaaquob, suspected driver of the van responsible for the Las Ramblas attack that killed 13 civilians, was reported shot and killed by Catalonian police on Monday, July 21st. The suspect was confronted in the small town of Subirats – an hour’s drive west of Barcelona – by police. 

As of now, the police have four suspects in custody – 3 Moroccans and 1 Spaniard. The detained include Driss Oukabir, who has claimed himself innocent and never a part of the terrorist cell.

At the site of the attack – Las Ramblas. temporary colorful memorials line the famous promenade. The King and Queen of Spain participated in laying down ceremonial flowers together at the site of the incident. 



What started as an isolated incident in Barcelona had quickly unraveled into a much deadlier terrorist scheme that, if successful, would have correlated to substantially darker headlines this Friday.

While tragic, the Las Ramblas attack and subsequent findings serve as yet another lesson to the public and authorities on terrorist behavior, even if the lesson may simply be that an attack can, and usually will, be completely unexpected.

Though terrorist attacks often bear a heavy impact, the world should never try to forget them. The way that heavy impact is utilized – for instance, to immortalize those lost, or to remember previous mistakes – can leave the world stronger and more prepared for the next attack, whenever it may come.


Raymond Cao