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13 killed in Barcelona attack, Spanish police kill four suspects in separate alleged plot

Last Updated Aug 18, 2017 at 12:27 am EDT

A white van jumped up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents. Authorities said 13 people were killed and 100 were wounded in what they called a terror attack.

The afternoon attack in the northeastern Spanish city was the country’s deadliest since 2004, when al-Qaida-inspired bombers killed 192 people in co-ordinated attacks on Madrid’s commuter trains.

It left victims sprawled out in the street, spattered with blood or crippled by broken limbs. Others fled in panic, screaming or carrying young children in their arms. As witnesses and emergency workers tried to help the wounded, police brandishing hand guns launched a search of side streets looking for suspects.

Officials said some of the victims are very badly hurt and the death toll could rise.

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The president of Spain’s Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, said that two people had been arrested.

Police immediately cordoned off the city’s broad avenue and ordered stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene.

Police evacuated stores on the sprawling avenue where scores of people had taken cover.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the van attack.

A statement carried by the extremist group’s media arm — the Aamaq news agency — says Thursday’s attack was carried out by “soldiers of the Islamic State.”

It says the attack was in response to IS calls for its followers to target countries participating in the coalition trying to drive the extremist group from Syria and Iraq.

The statement provided no further details about the attackers.

Later Thursday, Spanish police confirmed that at least four terror suspects were shot and killed in a separate alleged terror attack south of Barcelona.

Police tweeted that they “have shot down the perpetrators” in response to a terrorist attack.

Spain’s public broadcaster, RTVE, reported that the suspects may have been carrying suicide explosive belts.

The broadcaster said the suspects tried to carry out a similar attack to the one in Barcelona, which left 13 people dead earlier Thursday, by driving a vehicle into pedestrians. It said seven people were injured by the suspects, two seriously.

David Amber, the studio host of Hockey Night in Canada, was in Barcelona at the time. He spoke to 680 NEWS about the attack.

“It’s very different than what it was earlier this afternoon. I was walking with my wife and kids in Las Ramblas after lunch. It was vibrant, it was as busy an avenue as you’ll find in any major international city … it’s incredibly vibrant and busy, with cafes and restaurants and things to do and things to see. It’s now completely bare except for police.

“They’ve effectively said to everyone, ‘don’t go outside.'”

Amber said he knew at least one person had died, and there was a body covered in a tarp outside his hotel room.

State-owned broadcaster RTVE reported that investigators think two vans were used — one for the attack and a second as a getaway vehicle.

Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the centre of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrian path in the centre of the street while cars can travel on either side.

A taxi driver who witnessed the attack, Oscar Cano, told TV3 the van jumped onto the central pedestrian area at a high speed and swerved from side to side.

Tamara Jurgen, a Dutch visitor who had just arrived, said she and a friend were inside a Zara clothing store steps from Placa Catalunya when the attacker drove down Las Ramblas. They were held inside for more than two hours until police cleared that block.

“Everyone was screaming and running. We had to run up to the roof and throw our bags over a wall. We were all together along this (3-meter, 10-foot) wall and we were scared we were going to have to jump,” she said.

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 with guns drawn and riot police were at the end of his block.

“It’s just kind of a tense situation,” Fleming said.

Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century place on Las Ramblas that houses offices and a tourism centre, 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.

Meanwhile, the police force for Spain’s Catalonia region says a car knocked down two police officers at a traffic checkpoint in Barcelona.

The Mossos d’Esquadra force did not indicate if the incident was related to the van attack in the city’s Las Ramblas district on Thursday that left 12 people dead and dozens injured.

Barcelona police later said in a tweet that the car and its driver were intercepted about 10 kilometres outside of the downtown area where the original attack happened.

Local media reports said a white Ford Focus ran over the officers and that a person from the car was shot and killed by regional troopers.

Neither the city nor regional police have said whether a suspect was shot.

In the years since the 2004 Madrid bombings, Spanish authorities have reported arresting nearly 200 jihadis, but the only deadly attacks were claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA. Those ETA bombings in the past decade claimed five lives in all.

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.

Four other men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge, unleashing a rampage with knives that killed eight people in June. Another man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.