A van plowed into pedestrians on Barcelona’s most iconic avenue at the height of the tourist season in a terrorist attack that left 13 people dead and echoed similar incidents in other European cities.
Catalonia’s regional government said 50 people were also injured. Two suspects were arrested, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told reporters. The police operation continues, and in an apparently related incident, a driver ran down two policemen at a checkpoint, prompting a shootout.
The van zigzagged into people at 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, a witness told state broadcaster TVE. Las Ramblas, a busy avenue with bars and street artists at the heart of Barcelona’s tourist circuit, was strewn with bodies and rubble as passersby ran to help the wounded.
“The car came toward me, people were flying in the air. There were bodies everywhere,” Shari Weise, a 54 year-old visiting Barcelona from California said in a telephone interview. “The man next to me got hit and I jumped behind a pole, and pulled a 15 year-old boy behind the pole with me.”
Images of injured victims being tended to on the sidewalk are all too familiar in Europe. Terrorists in London drove into pedestrians on bridges in two deadly incidents this year. There was also an attack using a commercial vehicle in Stockholm. Last year, trucks plowed through crowds in Berlin and Nice.
In London, authorities responded by fortifying barriers designed to protect pedestrians. Concrete and metal blocks were erected to separate sidewalks from traffic. In Madrid — which lived with Basque terrorism for decades before Islamist terrorism became the main threat — most tourist thoroughfares don’t have the barriers that are used to protect institutional targets.
Islamic State claimed the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Spain has been a target of Islamist-inspired terrorism before. One of the worst incidents in Europe was in Madrid in 2004 when about 200 people were killed by bombs on early morning commuter trains just days before a general election.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will travel to Barcelona with his deputy and interior minister. Catalan National Assembly, a separatist group, meanwhile halted planned campaigning ahead of an independence referendum — which Rajoy considers illegal — planned for October.
“Terrorists will never defeat a united people that loves liberty in the face of barbarity,” Rajoy said in a Twitter posting.
Spain is the world’s biggest tourist destination after France and the U.S. and the Catalan city of Barcelona is among its star attractions. Spain received more than 75 million foreign visitors last year and tourism is a key provider of jobs.
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