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ISIL claims responsibility for van attack in Barcelona

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 17/08/2017
إعادة تشغيل الفيديو

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has claimed responsibility for a deadly van-ramming attack in one of Barcelona's busiest tourist areas.

At least 13 people were killed and 100 injured after a white van ploughed into a crowd at around 5pm local time (15:00 GMT) in the bustling Las Ramblas area, a 1.2-kilometre stretch full of shops and restaurants and usually heaving with tourists.

"The executors of the Barcelona attack were soldiers of the Islamic State," ISIL's Amaq outlet said on its Telegram messenger account, without naming those it claimed were behind the attack.

Amaq said ISIL had launched the attack in response to calls to target states taking part in the United States-led coalition battling the group in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, has claimed several similar attacks in Europe over the past year.

The afternoon attack in the northeastern Catalan city was the country's deadliest since 2004, when al-Qaeda-inspired bombers killed 192 people in coordinated attacks on Madrid's commuter trains.

Spanish police described the event as a "terrorist attack" and arrested two people. They dismissed earlier reports of suspects holed up in a nearby bar.

One of the suspects was named by the police union as Driss Oukabir, but there were no further details and it was unclear if he was among those held.

Joaquim Forn,  Catalonia's interior minister, confirmed the death toll on Twitter.

There were fears the death toll could rise given the severity of some injuries.

At least one Belgian national - a woman - was among those killed, the country's foreign minister Didier Reynders said on Twitter.

El Pais newspaper said the driver of the vehicle had fled on foot after the attack.

It was still unclear how many attackers had been involved in the incident.

Active situation

People have been warned against travelling to Placa Catalunya.

Nafees Hamid, a witness, told Al Jazeera: "There are helicopters everywhere above and armed police are rushing into the area. Police have cordoned off Las Ramblas."

He explained by phone that most people heeded a police warning to go inside while the situation was active.

Other witnesses spoke of a scene of carnage, with bodies strewn along the boulevard as others fled for their lives.

"When it happened I ran out and saw the damage," local shop worker Xavi Perez told AFP. "There were bodies on the floor with people crowding round them. People were crying. There were lots of foreigners."

Witness Aamer Anwar told Britain's Sky News television that he was walking down Las Ramblas, which he described as "jam-packed" with tourists.

"All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids."

Video posted to social media showed emergency services at the scene.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was in contact with authorities, and was on his way to the city.

Emergency services asked Metro and train stations to close, according to reports.

The alleged attack took place at the height of the tourist season in Barcelona, which is one of Europe's top travel destinations with at least 11 million visitors a year.

Meanwhile, a second van linked to the attack was found in the small town of Vic in Catalonia, local authorities there said on Twitter.

Catalan police also said a driver earlier hit two officers in Barcelona, but it was unclear whether this incident was related to the early evening attack in Las Ramblas.

International condemnation

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among those who expressed his solidarity, calling for the world to unite in an "uncompromising battle against the forces of terror", the Kremlin said.

"What happened once again confirms the need for a genuine unification of efforts by the entire world community in an uncompromising battle with the forces of terror," Putin said in a telegram of condolences to Spanish King Felipe VI, describing the incident as a "cruel and cynical crime".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent condolences and offered US assistance to Spanish authorities.

French President Macron expressed France's solidarity after what he termed a "tragic attack".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the incident as "a revolting attack".

British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the "terrible" attack and said the UK "stands with Spain against terror." 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his "profound sorrow and anguish".

Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims.

While full details of the incident were not immediately clear, since July 2016 vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of attacks across Europe, killing more than 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

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