Terror struck in Barcelona today, as two men claiming allegiance to ISIS drove a van along a pedestrian passage of the Las Ramblas thoroughfare. A dozen people were killed, eighty injured. Reporters for the Washington Post described the scene:
The attack broke the peace of a warm summer afternoon in a packed, touristy area of Barcelona at the peak of vacation season, and the victims came from places far beyond the city borders. Grave-faced authorities announcing the casualties said the death toll could rise and that 15 people had suffered serious injuries. Catalan police said they have detained two people in connection with the attack. A Spanish security official said the van was rented using the identification card of a local resident whose name was widely circulated in local media. But the man turned himself in to police and said he had lost his identification card, the security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an open investigation.
According to the Times:
Within hours, the Islamic State claimed that the perpetrators were its “soldiers,” adding Spain to the list of European countries — including France and Britain — where vehicles have been used in attacks on civilians.
Until today, Spain had avoided the recent series of terrorist attacks across Western Europe.
That changed in an instant [Thursday], with witnesses describing people screaming and running for their lives as the driver of the van weaved back and forth just before 6 p.m., apparently trying to hit as many people as he could. Police officers swept through the area near Las Ramblas, a wide boulevard with a large pedestrianized section, telling people to get out of the area. “I heard a crowd screaming,” Tom Markwell, a tourist from New Orleans, told the BBC. “It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star.”
Mass transit was closed for the day, and Barcelona security forces were quick to respond. The vehicle strike paralleled previous terrorist attacks, including the recent homicide in Charlottesville. The Times noted this had been the pattern in large European cities:
“While it’s not clear whether the attackers corresponded with ISIS prior to the operation, it’s clear that the methods used in the attack is something ISIS encouraged and incited over and again,” said Laith Alkhouri, a director in New York of the business-risk intelligence company Flashpoint, which tracks militant threats and cyberthreats. In the French resort city of Nice, a man drove a rental truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the seaside Promenade des Anglais last year, killing 86 people.
There were attacks in 2016 as well:
A few days before Christmas last year, a driver in a stolen van mowed down unsuspecting shoppers at a holiday market in Berlin, killing 12 people and wounding dozens. At least seven civilians were killed and dozens injured in June when knife-wielding assailants sped across London Bridge in a white van, ramming numerous pedestrians before emerging with large hunting knives to attack the capital’s Borough Market, a crowded nightspot. ... There have been other deadly attacks using vehicles that were not related to Islamist extremists. A British man rammed a rental van into a congregation of Muslims leaving prayers in North London during Ramadan, and a man who was part of white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., drove his car into a crowd on Saturday, killing a woman.
The king of Spain sounded a defiant note on Twitter:
“They are murderers, just criminals, who will not terrify us. All of Spain is Barcelona. Las Ramblas will return to being for everyone.”