Spanish Police Kill 5 Suspects Wearing Bomb Belts After Second Terror Attack South of Barcelona

Thirteen people killed in Barcelona, over 130 injured, 17 critically ■ One killed, five people, including police officer, wounded in second car-ramming attack in Cambrils ■ Cambrils attackers reported to have worn fake explosive belts

Police officers check a car involved in a terrorist attack in Cambrils, south of Barcelona, August 18, 2017.
LLUIS GENE/AFP

Spain launched a sweeping anti-terrorism operation on Friday, shooting dead five would-be attackers after a suspected Islamist militant drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 and wounding dozens of others. One person was killed and five were wounded in a later car-ramming attack in the Catalan seaside town of Cambrils. Five suspected attackers were killed following the second attack.

Islamic State said the perpetrators had been responding to its call for action by carrying out Thursday's rampage along Barcelona's most famous avenue, which was thronged with holiday-makers enjoying an afternoon stroll at the peak of the tourist season.

>> BARCELONA ATTACK: FULL COVERAGE >>

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday an American citizen was confirmed dead in attacks in Spain. 

Spanish policemen in Barcelona, August 18, 2017.
PAU BARRENA/AFP

Bodies, many motionless, were left strewn across the avenue and authorities said the toll of dead, which included several children, islikely to yet rise with 17 people reported to be in critical condition.

Hours after the first attack, early Friday morning, as a hunt for the first attacker was underway, Spanish police killed five suspected attackers in Cambrils, a town approximately 120km from Barcelona, after a separate car ramming attack in which five bystanders and one police officer were wounded, two of them seriously. One of the victim subsequently succumbed to his injuries.

Some of the attackers were reported to have been wearing what seemed to be explosive belts. Controlled detonations of the suspected explosives were carried out, at which point the authorities deemed them to have been fake.

Spanish emergency services said that over 130 people were injured in both the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks. Seventeen are currently reported to be in critical condition and another 30 in serious condition, an emergency services spokesman has said.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, the day before the van ploughed into the tree-lined walkway of Barcelona's Las Ramblas avenue, one person was killed in an explosion in a house in a separate town southwest of Barcelona, police said. It is currently unknown if the incident is related.

Police said they had arrested three Moroccan men and one Spanish man from the north African enclave of Melilla in conenction to the attack. A fourth suspect was arrested Friday afternoon.

A judicial source said investigators believed a cell of at least eight people, possibly 12, may have been involved in the Barcelona attack and Cambrils plot.

On Las Ramblas, residents and tourists trickled back to the famous promenade where hours earlier a white van had zigzagged at high speed through throngs of pedestrians and cyclists, leaving bodies strewn in its wake.

Residents walked dogs and curious tourists reclaimed the street, along with media crews, despite the driver still being at large. Some areas remained cordoned off by police.

"Those that live here can't believe it, because we live here, we walk here, this is our neighbourhood," Sebastiano Palumbo, 47, an Italian architect working in Barcelona, said as he walked his dog. "I think the best thing would be to continue, every day, doing what do."

The injured and dead came from 24 different countries, the Catalan regional government said, ranging from France and Germany to Pakistan and the Philippines. Spanish media said several children were killed.

Islamic State claim

Islamic State's Amaq news agency said the attackers had carried out the operation "in response to calls for targeting coalition states" - a reference to a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group. Spain has several hundred soldiers in Iraq training local forces in the fight against Islamic State.

There was no immediate indication though that Islamic State had directed or organised the attack, although some of those responsible for similar attacks in Europe have been inspired by the jihadist group.

Islamist militants have staged a string of attacks across Europe in the past 13 months, killing well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.

The Barcelona attack was the deadliest in Spain since March 2004, when Islamist militants placed bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced three days of official mourning for what he called a "jihadist attack" while the Spanish royal household said on Twitter: "They are murderers, nothing more than criminals who are not going to terrorise us. All of Spain is Barcelona."

U.S. President Donald Trump said: "The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help."

He added: "Be tough & strong, we love you!"

Bodies on the ground

Police said two men detained on Thursday had been arrested in two towns, Ripoll and Alcanar, both in the region of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital.

Earlier, mobile phone footage showed bodies strewn along the Ramblas, some motionless. Paramedics and bystanders bent over them, treating them and trying to comfort those still conscious.

German television channel ZDF reported that three Germans were among those killed, and Belgium's foreign minister said a Belgian was among the dead.

France said 26 of its citizens were hurt, and 11 of them were in a serious condition. Australia said at least four of its nationals were injured, and Italy three.

Regional head Carles Puigdemont said people had been flocking to hospitals in Barcelona to give blood.

Susana Elvira Carolina, 33, who works at a shop on Las Ramblas, had just entered her building when the van struck.

"We had a window and you could see the bodies lying from there, you could see how people were run over."

Tourist draw

The incident 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.

Foreign leaders voiced condemnation and sympathy, including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation has suffered some of Europe's deadliest militant attacks in recent years.

However, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the attack showed the European Union's system of migrant relocation was wrong. "It is dangerous. Europe should wake up," he said. "We are dealing here with a clash of civilisations."

Authorities in Vic, a small town outside Barcelona, said a van had been found there in connection with the attack. Spanish media had said that a second van was hired as a getaway vehicle.

Barcelona is the capital of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, which plans to hold a popular vote on October 1 on whether it should secede from Spain. The central government says the vote cannot go ahead because it is unconstitutional.