Judges mull verdict in Barcelona terror attacks trial

Spanish judges on Wednesday February 17th began deliberating a verdict in the trial of three men accused of helping the jihadists behind the 2017 attacks in Barcelona and a nearby town that killed 16.

Judges mull verdict in Barcelona terror attacks trial
Image: Josep Lago/AFP

The Islamic State (IS) group took responsibility for the bloodshed of August 17th-18th, when pedestrians were mown down by a van in Barcelona and others were attacked at a nearby seaside town as Europe reeled from a string of jihadist attacks.

Since the trial began more than three months ago at a branch of the National Court near Madrid, more than 200 witnesses have testified, with the judges now meeting to weigh their sentence in a process which could take weeks.

Although the six perpetrators were shot dead by police, many questions remained, with investigators and victims hoping the trial would shed light on how the violence unfolded, which also left 140 people wounded.

While none of the trio are charged with carrying out the attacks, they are accused of helping the jihadists, one of whom ran down pedestrians on Barcelona's Las Ramblas on a busy Thursday, killing 14. The driver then killed another person before being shot dead days later.

Hours later, just after 1:00 am on Friday morning, five others rammed pedestrians in Cambrils, 100 kilometres (60 miles) further south, and fatally stabbed a woman before being shot dead by police.

Mohamed Houli Chemlal and Driss Oukabir are accused of belonging to a jihadist group, manufacturing and possessing explosives and conspiracy to wreak havoc.

If convicted, prosecutors want them jailed for 41 and 36 years respectively. Said Ben Iazza is on trial for collaborating with the cell, with prosecutors calling for an eight-year sentence.

'I don't support IS extremism'

All three have followed the trial from a thick glass booth, carefully separated and wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

 “I did not know what was going to happen in Barcelona, nor in Cambrils” and “I don't support the extremist views of Daesh,” Chemlal, 23, said in his final statement on Wednesday, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

During the investigation, Chemlal admitted the initial plan was to hit targets like Barcelona's Sagrada Familia basilica, with police finding documents relating to the city's Camp Nou football stadium and the Eiffel Tower.

But an accidental explosion on August 16th at a house where they had been preparing explosives, which killed the group's spiritual leader and injured Chemlal, forced the cell to hurriedly improvise the weekend attacks.

The van used in the Ramblas attack was rented by Oukabir, who during the trial insisted he was not part of the cell and was not religious. “It never crossed my mind that this would happen,” the 31-year-old said in his final statement, adding that if he had known “he would have tried to stop it”.

Experts testified that Oukabir was fully aware why the van had been hired, saying that both he and Chemlal “were involved in the events”.

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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.