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TERRORISM

Terrorist cell planned to attack Sagrada Familia with van of explosives

Police believe that the jihadist cell responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 14 dead and more than 100 injured were originally planning something much bigger involving Barcelona’s most emblematic tourist sites.

Terrorist cell planned to attack Sagrada Familia with van of explosives
Photo: tanjakrstevska/Depositphotos

The terrorists planned to inflict as much carnage as possible by driving vans packed with explosives into three of the city’s busiest tourist areas, according to a report in Spanish online newspaper El Español on Saturday.

The newspaper cites police sources with information that one of the targets was Gaudi’s as yet unfinished masterpiece, the towering basilica of the Sagrada Familia.

As the most visited monument in Spain attracting more than four million visitors last year, the Catholic site is thronged with tourist crowds with queues of dozens of people snaking across the forecourt to gain entry, while thousands more linger outside to admire its spires.

Reports said that Las Ramblas was the second objective and that the busy port area, which each day welcomes hundreds of visitors disembarking from cruise ships, may have been the third target.

On Friday police said that the cell had been planning for an even bigger assault than the deadly car rampages they carried out, but had been prevented from doing so thanks to an event which was originally dismissed as nothing more sinister than a household gas leak.

An explosion in a house in Alcanar, 200km south of Barcelona, on Wednesday evening in which two people died and several were injured — including one man who was later arrested in the wake of the terrorist attacks — is now thought to be due to the handling of explosives being prepared for the attack.

READ ALSO: Terrorists acted of desperation after plan to use explosives failed.

“They were preparing one or several attacks in Barcelona, and an explosion in Alcanar stopped this as they no longer had the material they needed to commit attacks of an even bigger scope,” said Josep Lluis Trapero of Catalonia's police, at a press conference on Friday evening.

It has since emerged that the group may have intended to hire a large truck, or several smaller vans, to pack full of butane gas cyclinders in order to create the maximum carnage.

But police believe that after the unexpected blast at the property on Wednesday the plotters moved to a plan B to commit “more rudimentary” attacks, which involved the vehicles ploughing into pedestrians in Barcelona and Cambrils.

Those attacks still killed 14 people and injured more than 100, of which 12 remain in a critical condition. 

READ MORE: Manhunt continues for final member of terrorist cell

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Saturday, that the terror cell behind Spain's deadly twin attacks has been “dismantled”,  although local authorities took a more cautious tone.

“The cell has been completely dismantled,” he told reporters, speaking of the group that is believed to have consisted of at least 12 young men, many of them Moroccan, some teenagers.

But Joaquim Forn, in charge of interior matters in the northeastern region of Catalonia where the attacks took place, downplayed Zoido's comments.    

“We can't say the investigation is finished until we locate or detain all those who we think form part of this terror cell,” he told reporters.   

Police are still hunting for 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub without confirming reports he was the driver who smashed a van into people on Barcelona's busy Las Ramblas boulevard on Thursday.

ENVIRONMENT

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.

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