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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Air of defiance as Barcelona recovers from terror attack

Visitors and locals go about their activities despite anger and grief over ramming attack that killed 13 and injured more than 100

People pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona attack on Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona on August 19, 2017, two days after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing 13 persons and injuring more than 100. Javier Soriano / AFP
People pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona attack on Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona on August 19, 2017, two days after a van ploughed into the crowd, killing 13 persons and injuring more than 100. Javier Soriano / AFP

As the weekend began on Saturday morning, crowds were already gathering in the centre of Barcelona, showing no signs of being put off from enjoying the holiday despite Thursday’s terror attack in the Catalan capital.

Down on the coast, sunseekers were already thronging Barceloneta beach. Michele, a 20-something Italian tourist who was in the city on the afternoon of the attack, spoke for many visitors and locals with his defiant response.

“These people are cowards and bullies,” he told The National. “We will never be put off doing what we want to do by them.”

Geoff Smith, a British tourist who witnessed the attack on Las Ramblas, had shaken off his disbelief after the events of Thursday.

“We heard screams and ran into a restaurant, and then this tidal wave of people came streaming down the road. They were so terrified to get away from the scene that this guy came crashing through the glass window. We were in there for five hours before armed police came crashing in and demanded to see our passports. But it didn’t put us off, we’re staying out here for another four days.”

Local staff at restaurants and bars were reporting that Friday night was as busy as usual. Tico, who works at a drink kiosk just off Las Ramblas, said tourists started returning to the area after joining Friday's march by thousands of people down the route taken by the attacker, chanting “We are not afraid” and applauding the security services.

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Read more:

Barcelona mastermind on the run as plan for much bigger attack comes to light

More tragic details emerge about the dead and missing

After Barcelona, our greatest defence is humanity

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By Friday afternoon, there was little to show that Las Ramblas had experienced a horrific terror attack a day earlier as tourists and locals strolled along the popular thoroughfare. "Why should we not come out?" asked an English tourist. "We have to show terrorists that we won't be frightened by them."

A foreigner who lives in the city said Barcelona would not be cowed by the attacks. "This is a place of life and laughter; last night was just chaos but we can beat the terrorists by not changing our lives."

Las Ramblas was dotted with television crews throughout Friday afternoon and into Saturday, as the world's media descended on the Catalan capital. But the business of tourism, which sustains Barcelona, was only slightly affected by the attacks.

Hotel workers noted that there had been initial fear among tourists, with cancellations coming from visitors from the United States and Australia for trips into the next month. But many of those who were already coming to the city over the weekend saw little reason to cancel.

“It’s not something we even thought about doing," said Sarah Jones, from Cardiff, whose hen party arrived in the city on Friday afternoon.

Soaking up the sun on Nova Icaria beach, less than a kilometre from Las Ramblas, she said: We’ve been prepared for this trip for months and nothing was going to put us off. We all think that we’ll be safer here after an attack anyway, as all the police will be ultra-careful.”

Units of the regional Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, remained in place at most major squares in the town on Saturday, toting semi-automatic rifles and wearing heavy armour. Some people were still being stopped and having their bags searched, but there was an air of friendliness that was perhaps missing on Friday, when the police had been much jumpier.

Jerry, a recruitment consultant who was visiting Barcelona as a work perk, said he would not be put off by any attacks. “It's not like we've not experienced this ourselves over the years. You just have to keep calm and carry on!”

At Barcelona airport, where armed police were manning roadblocks, there was no sign of an unusual exodus from the city. There were long queues for flights to Britain, but airport staff said this was had been happening all summer as passport controls were tightened.

Passengers arriving in Britain were told that police officers were asking to speak to witnesses of the terror attack, and for any pictures or videos that could be passed on to the Spanish authorities.