Barcelona Terror Cell Originally Planned to Target Sagrada Familia Cathedral With Massive Truck Bomb
The terror cell that struck Barcelona on Thursday originally intended to target the city's famed Sagrada Familia cathedral with a massive truck bomb, as investigators have revealed they've discovered 120 gas canisters that are believed to have been intended for the attack.
Meanwhile, the names and stories of the victims killed in the terror attack continue to be revealed, including confirmation earlier today that 7-year-old Australian boy Julian Cadman was among those murdered.
Investigators are focusing on the role of a Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is believed to be the brains behind the terror cell and served in the mosque attended by the other terror cell members.
Meanwhile, a manhunt for one of the remaining cell members who may have been behind the wheel of the van that drove through the Las Ramblas shopping district has now spread to France.
Regarding the targeting of the Sagrada Familia, The Local reported:
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.
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.
The plans of the terror cell were apparently derailed after the explosion Wednesday of the safe house in Alcanar an hour south of Barcelona, where the terrorists were apparently building the vehicle bombs and where they had stored the gas canisters and the explosive TATP.
One of those killed in that blast is believed to be imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, who has become the one of the primary subjects of the investigation.
El Pais reported earlier today:
Two months ago, Abdelbaki told several acquaintances he was giving up his duties as an imam and moving to Morocco. A new imam was not named – all such changes must be communicated to the regional government – and since then worshippers with the Annour community have been leading their own prayers.
The strange disappearance of the imam coincides with the period during which the terrorist cell began to prepare an attack, or a number of attacks, involving a large explosive device in Barcelona. Although the timeline is not firmly established, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Josep Lluís Trapero, explained the group had spent a “certain length of time” on those preparations [...]
The role of the religious leader in the attacks is still to be clarified – not just in terms of the radicalization of cell members but also in terms of logistical preparation. “We can’t compromise evidence or leads, or give unreliable information,” said Mossos d’Esquadra spokesperson Albert Oliva on Saturday, adding that police had carried out nine searches in Ripoll alone that day.
Whether the members of the cell were radicalized by Abdelbaki or in another way, they quickly become ready and able to act. None of them had previous convictions for terrorism crimes nor did they feature on police databases. “They are very young,” stressed Catalan regional police chief Trapero.
Es Satty reportedly had contact with members of the terror cell that conducted the March 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 193 -- still the largest Islamic terror attack in modern European history.
French authorities are now on alert as they believe that one of the remaining terror cell members still at large may have crossed over into France.
Two of the cell members were killed in Wednesday's explosion at their Alcanar safe house, possibly including Abdelbaki Es Satty. Five cell members were killed in a shootout with police Thursday night in Cambrils. Four men are in custody, and others, including Younes Abouyaacoub, are still at large.
That the members of this terror cell were largely drawn from the Moroccan community living in Spain will certainly raise questions about whether ISIS operatives are intentionally targeting that community for recruitment.
That a Moroccan teenager has been arrested for the terror stabbing attack in Turku, Finland -- that country's first jihadist attack -- will add to concerns about radicalization potentially emanating from Morocco, which lies just ten miles from Spain and the European mainland.