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Barcelona Attack Driver Identity Confirmed, Police Extend Search | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Police officers block a road near Alcanar, Spain, as part of an operation to find a suspect of Barcelona’s attack. AFP

Spanish authorities confirmed on Monday the identity of the driver of the deadly van attack in Barcelona, extending the search for him and saying that he is the last member of the 12-man extremist cell still at large.

Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn told Catalunya Radio that 22-year-old Moroccan suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub is the final target of a manhunt that has been ongoing since Thursday’s attack in Barcelona.

Forn said that “everything indicates” that Abouyaaqoub was the driver of the van that plowed down Barcelona’s emblematic Las Ramblas promenade on Thursday, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring over 120 more. Another attack hours later by other members of the cell killed one person and injured several more in Cambrils, further down the Mediterranean coastline from Barcelona.

Abouyaaqoub was believed to be the lone attacker on the run by Sunday, but authorities hadn’t confirmed his identity because they were having difficulty identifying the remains of at least one extremist who died in an explosion Wednesday at a house where explosives were being prepared.

“It’s evident that the person who committed the van attack can’t be dead because the explosion happened before the attack in Las Ramblas,” Forn told Catalunya Radio.

Police killed five suspected extremists in the Cambrils attack in a shootout. Four others have been arrested.

Spanish newspapers El Pais and La Vanguardia said they had seen images of what they said is Abouyaaqoub supposedly making a getaway on foot after the Barcelona van attack. The three images show a slim man wearing sunglasses seemingly walking through La Boqueria food market just off Las Ramblas.

The Catalan regional government said all European police forces were now searching for Abouyaaqoub and authorities could not rule out that he had slipped across the border into France.

Authorities have stepped up checks at Spain’s borders. They also raided more homes overnight in Ripoll, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees and close to France where many of the suspects in a 12-strong cell thought to be behind the attack had lived.

Catalonia’s regional president, meanwhile, said that regional and local authorities rejected the Spanish government’s suggestion to place traffic barriers to protect the Las Ramblas promenade because they deemed them “inefficient.”

Carles Puigdemont told La Sexta television that regional and municipal authorities discarded the suggestion because the barriers wouldn’t have prevented vehicles from entering the promenade at other points. Besides that, Puigdemont said closing off Las Ramblas was impractical because emergency vehicles still would need to be able to access the area.

Reports say the suggestion was made after other big vehicle attacks in Europe, but the precise timing wasn’t clear.