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Spain Looking for Moroccan Man in Barcelona Attack Investigation

Javier Marti Meix, a deputy inspector who is leading the investigation there for the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, said that it was possible that others could be buried in the rubble, which is in one of the poorer parts of Alcanar.

The suspects were living in the house illegally, he said, and other homes in the area have been occupied by squatters. The house had been repossessed by Banco Popular in a foreclosure, he said.

The counterterrorism expert said the police had recovered around 100 gas canisters from the property, a number that he found bewilderingly high. Neighbors said they had seen young people going in and out of the property, as well as cars with gas canisters, since December.

The authorities in Alcanar carried out controlled explosions Saturday morning — “If you hear detonations DO NOT be alarmed,” the Catalan police said on Twitter — because of concerns that there might still be more explosives and gas canisters in the rubble.

So far, seven people believed to be part of the cell have been killed, and four have been arrested. But with at least one more suspect still unaccounted for, Spaniards remained on edge, even though the authorities said on Saturday that the cell had been broken up and that there was no imminent threat of another attack.

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Younes Abouyaaqoub Credit Catalonian Police, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Spanish and Catalan authorities decided on Saturday to maintain the terrorist threat level at 4 (on a scale of 5), but said that security would be reinforced. The Islamic State militant group, which quickly claimed responsibility for the attack in Barcelona on Thursday, said that it had been behind the deadly events in Cambrils, as well.

While officials agreed on the threat level, there appeared to be some disagreement about the status of the investigation. Spain’s interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, announced that the terrorist cell had been dismantled, but his regional Catalan counterpart, Joaquim Forn, told reporters later on Saturday that “we can’t say the investigation is finished until we locate or detain all those who we think form part of this terror cell.”

The cell, Mr. Forn added, cannot be described as “absolutely dismantled.”

The focus of the manhunt on Saturday was Younes Abouyaaqoub, who is believed to have fled on foot after weaving a van through Las Ramblas, a central pedestrian area of Barcelona.

There was no indication that Mr. Abouyaaqoub or the other young men, ages 17 to 34, who were believed to be part of the cell had any connection to extremist or terrorism-related activities.

The counterterrorism expert said that investigators were looking into the possibility that the suspects had lived double lives, noting that some of their Facebook pages demonstrated an interest in clubbing, girls, selfies and hair gel.

Mr. Abouyaaqoub became the focus after the police explored the possibility that the driver of the Barcelona van may have been Moussa Oukabir, a 17-year-old from Morocco who died early Friday in a shootout with the police in Cambrils.

Instead, the police are now investigating whether Mr. Abouyaaqoub fled the van after it came to a halt near a Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas, hijacked another car, killed its driver and forced his way through a police checkpoint.

The police later found the body of a Spanish man who had been stabbed to death in an abandoned Ford Focus about three kilometers, or less than two miles, from the city center, and they believe there was a connection with the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.

At the same time, Josep Lluís Trapero, a senior Catalan police chief, told the local news media on Friday that it was too early to rule out the possibility that Mr. Abouyaaqoub was among the two men killed in the Alcanar explosion Wednesday night.

The attack in Barcelona was the worst in Spain since 2004, when a series of bombs ripped through commuter trains in Madrid, killing 192. The authorities suspect that the terrorist cell had been planning an even more deadly assault, but that it had to scale back plans after that explosion.

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A fountain in Zagreb, Croatia, displaying the Spanish national flag as a tribute to the victims of the attacks. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Abouyaaqoub was living in Ripoll, the Catalan town that was also home to two of the five men — Mr. Oukabir and Mohamed Hychami — who were shot and killed by the police in Cambrils.

On Friday, investigators raided an apartment in Ripoll that was the home of Abdelbaki Essati, the imam at a local mosque.

Ali Yassini, who leads the Islamic association that runs the mosque where Mr. Essati served as imam, was surprised to learn that Mr. Essati might be connected to the suspects in the attacks.

“During the time the imam was with us, Moussa came maybe once or twice and the other guys about the same,” he said. “And we never, ever saw the boys with the imam outside the mosque. We didn’t realize there was any relationship between them.”

Mr. Oukabir’s older brother Driss is among the four people who have been detained, although his role in the plot is unclear. He was taken into custody when he walked into a police station and said that his identity documents had been stolen.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility on Saturday for the attack in Cambrils, saying it had “killed and wounded more than 120 citizens of the Crusader coalition” in the two assaults.

The statement was disseminated on the group’s official Nashir channel, and it included erroneous material, most likely taken from news reports that were later corrected, stating that the perpetrators had used small arms to attack a bar near Las Ramblas.

Separately, the authorities continued with the grim task of identifying the victims of the attacks and notifying their families. In a statement on Saturday, the Catalan authorities said that a total of 108 people had been wounded in the two attacks — 100 in Barcelona — and that 12 people were in critical condition.

The Philippine Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it had offered its assistance to a 43-year-old woman who was seriously injured and whose 7-year-old son has been missing since the attack. (The Catalan police said later in the day that all of the dead and wounded had been found.)

The woman, who has not been publicly identified, is married to a British citizen and lives and works in Australia. She had traveled to Barcelona with her son for the wedding of a cousin from the Philippines, according to the statement.

An Irish man of Philippine descent and his 5-year-old son were also wounded in the attack, the statement said, adding that surgery on the boy’s leg had been successful.

Correction: August 19, 2017

An earlier version of this article misspelled, in one instance, the surname of a Moroccan teenager who died in a shootout with the police in Cambrils. He was Moussa Oukabir, not Oubakir.

Source: NYT > World

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