Police in Spain’s Catalonia region are continuing to hunt for the driver of the van used in the Barcelona terror attack on Thursday afternoon in which 13 people died and more than 100 were injured.
On Friday afternoon, their chief suspect was named as 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, the younger brother of Driss Oukabir, arrested after it emerged the van used in the Barcelona attack had been rented in his name.
Moussa Oukabir was one of five terrorists killed by police after an attack in the Catalan resort town of Cambrils that took place just hours after the deadly attack on Barcelona’s La Rambla promenade.
However, the head of Catalonia’s Mossos D'esquadra Josep Lluís Trapero said later on Friday that the theory that Moussa Oukabir was the driver in the Barcelona attack was losing weight. “It is still a possibility,” he said, but added that it was looking less likely as the hours went by.
Later in the day, Catalan police sources confirmed that they were now searching for 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub as the possible van driver. Abouyaaqoub is a resident of the Catalan town of Ripoll where three arrests have already been made in connection with the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.
Initially, anti-terrorist sources had said that Abouyaaqoub had died. However late on Friday, police ruled this out and said he was being sought as one of the chief suspects in the attacks.
Police have now identified the five suspected terrorists who were shot dead by police after the attack in Cambrils in which one person was killed and five others were injured, three of them officers with the Mossos d’Esquadra. The identity of three of the suspects has been officially confirmed: they are Mousa Oukabir, Said Aallaa and Mohamed Hychami. Police said the identification of Mousa Oukabir was based on fingerprints.
The Mossos D'esquadra on Friday searched the home of Said in Ripoll. His brother, one of the four detainees in the investigation to date, was in attendance during that search.
The key piece of evidence in the case to this point was found in the van used in the Barcelona attack. There, agents found the IDs of two people; one of those people was Driss Oukabir, 28, arrested on Thursday.
The van also contained the ID of a resident of the small Catalan town of Alcanar who was also arrested on Thursday. This person was one of those seriously injured when a bomb went off in a house in the town late on Wednesday night. The detainee is alleged to have been involved in organizing the terror attacks. Authorities believe residents of the house were preparing a large scale attack but that the explosion put paid to those plains.
Police investigations on Friday centered on Ripoll where searches were carried out and two arrests were made: Sahal El Karib, 34 and Mohamed Aallaa, 27.
None of the four people arrested to date have prior convictions for terror offenses.
Police in Catalonia are also continuing to work on another front as they try and dismantle the jihadist cell involved in the attacks. That cell is thought to number some 12 people. The group is thought to have been formed quickly by a group of Moroccan men, or men of Moroccan origin, who lived in Ripoll.
Trapero said it was “imperative” that authorities establish how the radicalization of “very young people” had taken place. But he noted the group had been prepared the attack for “over a period of time.”
English version by George Mills.