The US State Department has warned its citizens in Barcelona to be on high alert for terrorist threats in the Catalan capital, specifically along the city’s emblematic and pedestrian-packed Ramblas district.
“Exercise heightened caution around areas of vehicle movement, including buses, in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona during Christmas and New Year’s,” tweeted the government body.
“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, and other public areas.”
#Spain: Exercise heightened caution around areas of vehicle movement, including buses, in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona during Christmas and New Year’s. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, and other public areas. pic.twitter.com/MPGiZwMwxq
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) December 23, 2018
As a result of the shared information (it remains unclear whether US government sources contacted Spain or Catalonia officials directly), regional police force Mossos d'Esquadra are now looking for a man they suspect could be behind the potential attack.
He’s being referred to as BL, a 30-year-old Moroccan from Casablanca who has a permit to drive buses.
This last fact is of particular concern for regional authorities following August 2017’s van attack on pedestrians on the Ramblas and the 2016 truck attack on a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France.
Barcelona Mossos are currently carrying out checks on bus and minibus drivers throughout Barcelona city centre, as well as reinforcing security measures to try to locate the suspect.
Barcelona’s Information Council is also carrying out checks at vehicle rental companies, hotels and Catalan regional border posts.
There is currently nothing to suggest the suspect is in Barcelona at present.
The man has a criminal record after insulting a Spanish Civil Guard officer at Malaga airport in 2006. Police sources told Spanish national daily El País that he had travelled regularly between Spain and Morocco in the past three years.
Thirteen people were killed and 130 were injured when 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians on La Rambla on August 17, 2017.
Nine hours later, five men thought to be members of the same Islamic extremism cell drove into pedestrians in the nearby town of Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six more. All five of the attackers were shot and killed by Spanish police.