Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Spain attacks: who are the terrorists?

The terrorist cell so far appears to be 12-strong, many of whom come from the Catalan town of Ripoll and are of Moroccan descent.

Two of the terrorists who attacked locals and tourists in Spain. EPA/Spanish Polic
Two of the terrorists who attacked locals and tourists in Spain. EPA/Spanish Polic

These are the men responsible for the worst terror attack to hit Spain in more than a decade.

At least 14 have died and 130 were injured in the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, with the youngest victim only aged three-years-old. The casualty rate could have been significantly higher as reports have emerged that the group also planned to blow up the iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral.

The terrorist cell so far appears to be 12-strong, many of whom come from the Catalan town of Ripoll and are of Moroccan descent.

An imam of a mosque in the small Catalan town of Ripoll, 85 miles north of Barcelona, is believed to be the responsible for bringing together the band of youths who perpetrated the attack. It is unclear if Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is believed to be around 45, masterminded the attack or simply sowed the seeds of radicalisation amongst the group of local Muslims who have gone on to become mass murderers.

The current status of Satty is a mystery. He left town around a month ago but local media reports suggest that his could be the third body that has reportedly been found at the site of a house which exploded when two blundering would-be terrorists attempting to create weapons. The authorities, who raided his flat on Saturday, have not confirmed that they have stopped searching for the imam.

In what was initially thought to be a gas explosion from a drugs lab, the two as-yet unnamed people located at the house in Alcanar blew themselves up when trying to create a compound, known in Arabic as “mother of Satan”, using canisters of propane gas and an acetone peroxide compound.


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A man injured in the blast, a Spanish national from Melilla in Morocco believed to be Mohamed Houli Chemlal was arrested as a suspected cell member.

Worryingly, Younes Abouyaaqoub, the 22-year-old Moroccan believed to be the driver of the van that ploughed through crowds of tourists on Las Ramblas, has evaded capture. Police believe he may have escaped from the scene on a metro train, then hijacked a car and killed its driver before disappearing. There are fears he may have crossed over the border into France.

Echoing the make-up of previous terrorist groups who have targeted Europe, the cell appears to be populated by young men. Siblings have formed part of these groups in the past and this Spanish cell is no different, featuring two sets of brothers. Many of the group appeared to the outside world as ‘normal’ men, interested in sport and girls.

Younes Abouyaaqoub. EPA
Younes Abouyaaqoub is being hunted by police. EPA

The youngest of the group is Moussa Oukabir, aged only 17. Using his older brother’s documentation, he hired the van that weaved across Las Ramblas aiming to hit as many innocent people as possible. A skinny teenager, locals from his home town told the press her was a keen footballer who did not appear to hold extreme beliefs. After escaping from the carnage he helped create in Barcelona, he joined a second group of terrorists in the sea-side town of Cambrils. It was there that he was shot dead by police after taking part in another vehicle-based attack.

Oukabir’s brother, Driss, 28, handed himself into police when his name was broadcast on television. He claims his younger brother stole his documents without his knowledge or permission and is in police custody. His paperwork that included his home address in Ripoll helped police trace the web of extremists connected to the attack.


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Also in police custody is Mohammed Aalla, the owner of the black A3 Audi used in the Cambrils attack. The car swerved into a group of pedestrians enjoying a nighttime stroll along the sea, before ramming into a checkpoint at a roundabout, hitting a kerb and flipping over.

The five men inside, who were wearing what was later found to be fake suicide belts, were able to clamber out of the vehicle and began to brandish an axe, a machete and knives. They killed a woman and injured her family and others before they were all shot dead by police.

Mohammed Aalla’s brother, Said, 18, was one of the group who died in Cambrils. Also in the group was 24-year-old Mohamed Hychami, who was involved in the rental of the van used for the attack and a second van that was used by Moussa Oukabir as a getaway vehicle. Hychami’s brother, Omar, 21, was also killed during this second attack, as was the 19-year-old brother of Younes Abouyaaqoub, the suspect who remains on the run.