Late Thursday afternoon in Barcelona, Spain, the tranquility of a tree-lined pedestrian pathway was shattered by a bloody vehicular attack that killed more than a dozen people and prompted a manhunt. The driver’s whereabouts were still unknown as of early Friday local time, police say.
A white van drove into a crowd of people on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard, killing at least 13 people and injuring at least 100, according to the Catalan government.
The driver of the vehicle fled the scene. Police say they have detained two people who are connected to the attack — but that neither is the driver.
As of 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), officers were still evacuating people from the Las Ramblas area. A man was killed at a police checkpoint after running over two police officers, who survived, but police say there is no evidence that the incident was connected to the van attack, the BBC reports.
Regional police are describing the deadly incident on Las Ramblas boulevard as a terrorist attack but emphasized they do not know the motive.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, the SITE Intelligence Group reports.
As NPR previously reported, an ISIS claim of responsibility can mean a number of things. Some claimed attacks were planned by ISIS leaders, while others were planned independently. This time, the ISIS statement said that the “perpetrators” were “from the ranks of the Islamic State” and were responding to calls for attacks.
The van slammed into scores of people as it drove down the famous pedestrian walkway that runs down the middle of Las Ramblas. “It wasn’t slowing down at all. It was just going straight through the middle of the crowd, in the middle of the Ramblas,” an eyewitness told the BBC.
Keith Fleming, who lives in Barcelona, saw the aftermath of the attack from his balcony. He told The Associated Press that he saw “women and children just running.”
The AP spoke to other witnesses:
” ‘I heard a lot of people screaming and then I saw the van going down the boulevard,’ another witness, Miguel Angel Rizo, told The Associated Press. ‘You could see all the bodies lying through Las Ramblas. It was brutal. A very tough image to see.’
“Jordi Laparra, a 55-year-old physical education teacher and Barcelona resident, said it initially looked like a terrible traffic accident.
” ‘At first I thought it was an accident, as the van crashed into 10 people or so and seemed to get stuck. But then he maneuvered left and accelerated full speed down the Ramblas and I realized it was a terrorist attack. He zigzagged from side to side into the kiosks, pinning as many people as he could, so they had no escape,’ Laparra said.”
Nafees Hamid, a terrorism researcher based in Barcelona, was at the Placa de Catalunya, a major square on Las Ramblas, at the time of the attack. “I was just roaming around the area a little bit, actually just taking in some of the summer buzz here in Barcelona,” he told NPR. “I just saw people running … hundreds of people running in one direction, and I heard police sirens coming from every single direction.”
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