A white van jumped up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents. Police said 13 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the terror attack.
The attack left people sprawled out on the ground in the city in northeastern Spain, some spattered with blood, others with broken limbs. As witnesses and emergency workers tried to help the wounded, police brandishing hand guns launched a search of side streets amid reports that at least one perpetrator and maybe more were holed up in a nearby bar.
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Police immediately cordoned off the city’s broad avenue, which is popular with tourists, and ordered stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene. A few hours later, Catalan police tweeted: “We have arrested one man and we are treating him as a terrorist.” They said no one was holed up in a Barcelona bar but began to evacuate stores on the sprawling avenue where dozens of people had taken cover. State-owned broadcaster RTVE reported that investigators think two vans were used — one for the attack and a second as a getaway vehicle.
Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrian path in the center of the street but cars can travel on either side.
A taxi driver who witnessed the attack, Oscar Cano, told TV3 the van jumped onto the central pedestrian area at a high speed and swerved from side to side. In photographs and videos, at least five people could be seen lying on the ground in the street Thursday afternoon, being helped by police and others. Other video recorded people screaming as they fled the van. Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.
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“I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified,” he said. He said there was a bang — possibly from someone rolling down a store shutter — and more people ran by. Then police arrived and pushed everyone a full block away. Even people leaning out of doors were being told to go back inside, he said. Fleming said regular police with guns drawn and riot police were at the end of his block, which was soon deserted. “It’s just kind of a tense situation,” Fleming said. “Clearly, people were scared.”
Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century place on Las Ramblas that houses government offices and a tourism center, said the van passed right in front of the building. “We saw everything. People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside,” she said. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered assistance to authorities in Spain and said U.S. diplomats in Spain were helping Americans there. He vowed the United States would never relent in tracking down terror suspects and holding them to account. “Terrorists around the world should know that the United States and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice,” Tillerson said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. “stands with Spain against terror.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “this cowardly attack has deliberately targeted those enjoying life and sharing time with family and friends. We will never be cowed by such barbarism.”