NEWS

Younes Abouyaaqoub, Barcelona Van Attack Suspect, Shot Dead By Police

He was wearing a possible explosives vest, police say.

08/21/2017 13:06 EDT | Updated 08/21/2017 16:02 EDT
JOSEP LAGO via Getty Images
Spanish policemen control the road to the site where Moroccan suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot on August 21, 2017 near Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, south of Barcelona, four days after the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks that killed 15 people.

BARCELONA, Spain — The lone fugitive from the Spanish cell that killed 15 people in and near Barcelona was shot to death Monday after he flashed what turned out to be a fake suicide belt at two troopers who confronted him in a vineyard just outside the city he terrorized, authorities said.

Police said they had "scientific evidence'' that Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, drove the van that barrelled through Barcelona's crowded Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 people on Thursday, then hijacked a car and fatally stabbed its driver while making his getaway.

Abouyaaqoub's brother and friends made up the rest of the 12-man extremist cell, along with an imam who police said died in a botched bomb-making operation.

After four days on the run, Abouyaaqoub was spotted outside a train station about 52 kilometres (33 miles) west of Barcelona on Monday afternoon. A second witness told police she was certain she had seen the man whose photo has gone around the world as part of an international manhunt.

Two officers found him hiding in a nearby vineyard and asked for his identification, according to the head of the Catalan police. He was shot to death when he opened his shirt to reveal what looked to be explosives and cried out "Allah is great'' in Arabic, regional police chief Josep Luis Trapero said.

A bomb disposal robot was dispatched to examine the downed suspect before police determined the bomb belt was not real, Trapero said. A bag full of knives was found with his body, police said.

AFP/Getty Images
Policemen and medical staff stand next to their vehicles where Moroccan suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot on August 21, 2017 near Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, south of Barcelona, four days after the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks that killed 15 people.

A police photo of the body seen by The Associated Press showed his bloodied face, bearing several days' stubble on the chin.

With Abouyaaqoub's death, the group responsible for last week's fatal van attacks has now been broken, Trapero said.

"The arrest of this person was the priority for the police because it closed the detention and dismantling of the group that we had identified,'' he said.

Four are under arrest, and eight are dead: five shot by police in the seaside town of Cambrils, where a second van attack left one pedestrian dead early Friday; two others killed on the eve of the Barcelona attack in a botched bomb-making operation; and Abouyaaqoub.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both the Cambrils and Barcelona attacks.

Roser Ventura, whose father owns a vineyard between the towns of Sadurni d'Anoia and Subirats, said she alerted the regional Catalan police when they spotted a car crossing their property at high speed.

"The police told us to leave the premises and go home. We heard a helicopter flying around and many police cars coming toward the gas station that is some 600 metres from the property,'' Ventura said.

The search for Abouyaaqoub ended on the same day that Catalan police confirmed that he was the last remaining cell member thought to still be at large and provided a timeline of his movements.

Susana Vera / Reuters
A man lights a candle at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain August 21, 2017.

Javier Soriano/Getty Images
People display flowers, candles, balloons to pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks on the Rambla boulevard in Barcelona on Monday, four days after the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks that killed 15 people.

Authorities said earlier Monday they had evidence that pinpointed Abouyaaqoub as the driver of the van that plowed down the Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring more than 120 others.

Trapero said that after abandoning the vehicle, Abouyaaqoub walked through Barcelona for about 90 minutes, through the famed La Boqueria market and nearly to Barcelona University.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais published images Monday of what it said was Abouyaaqoub leaving the van attack site on foot. The three images show a slim man wearing sunglasses walking through La Boqueria.

In a parking lot often used by university students, he then hijacked a Ford Focus belonging to Pau Perez, stabbing Perez to death and taking the wheel with his final victim's body in the backseat. Minutes later, Abouyaaqoub plowed through a police checkpoint with the stolen car and abandoned the vehicle, disappearing into the night.

The manhunt for him reached well beyond Spain's borders, but in the end, Abouyaaqoub died about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from where he was last spotted.

After the carnage in Barcelona, authorities took a closer look at an explosion the night before in a house south of the city. Police initially had dismissed it as a household accident.

Along with two bodies, the more exhaustive search turned up remnants of over 100 butane gas tanks and materials needed for the TATP explosive, which has been used previously by Islamic State militants.

May have been planning an even bigger attack

The equipment, along with reports that Abouyaaqoub had rented three vans, suggested the militant cell was making plans for an even more massive attack on the city.

Regional authorities said Monday that 48 people were still hospitalized from the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, eight of them in critical condition.

Catalonia's regional president, meanwhile, said regional and local authorities had rejected the Spanish government's suggestion to place traffic barriers to protect the Las Ramblas promenade because they deemed them "inefficient.''

Javier Soriano/Getty Images
A woman hangs a message to pay tribute to the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks on the Rambla boulevard in Barcelona on Monday.

Carles Puigdemont told La Sexta television the barriers wouldn't have prevented vehicles from entering the promenade at other points — and he said closing off Las Ramblas was impractical because emergency vehicles still needed access.

On Monday, crowds of people continued to lay flowers, candles and heart-shaped balloons at the top of the pedestrian promenade where the van struck and at other smaller tributes.

Las Ramblas also regained some normality, with throngs of people walking up and down, tourists arriving and residents going about their daily business.

"We have to stand strong in front of these betrayers, assassins, terrorists,'' said resident Monserrat Mora. "Because Barcelona is strong and they will not be able to prevail with us.''

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Paritz contributed from Madrid along with Ciaran Giles. Hinnant contributed from Barcelona.

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