Las Ramblas attack: van hits crowd in tourist area of Barcelona

The van thought to have been used in the attack.

Crash on Las Ramblas being treated as terror incident by Spanish police, who say people have died

Up to 13 people are feared dead and dozens have been injured after a van crashed into a crowd of people in central Barcelona, with reports of at least one armed man holed up in a nearby restaurant.

Catalonia’s TV3 reported that 13 people had died and dozens left injured, but these numbers have not been confirmed by Spanish authorities. Catalan police have so far confirmed one death and said 32 people have been injured, 10 of them seriously.

Spanish police, who are treating the incident as a terrorist attack, said people had died in the “massive crash” on Las Ramblas, a wide boulevard in an area of the city popular with tourists.

Television pictures show that a van came to a halt on top of a Joan Míro mosaic halfway down Las Ramblas, meaning it would have covered more than 500 metres.

The van entered Las Ramblas where it meets the Plaça de Catalunya, then drove towards the port area.

In a tweet, Catalan police confirmed they were dealing with a terrorist attack.“Terrorist attack confirmed,” they said. “The terrorist attack protocol has been activated.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called off his holidays in Galicia, north-west Spain, and will return to Madrid. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont and the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, have also cancelled their holidays and are on their way back to the city. The Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, said the regional government would hold an urgent meeting.

Puigdemont has called for “maximum caution” in the wake of the attack. He added that “all the attention” should be on the victims of the attack.

Local media report between 10-13 people have died. Ambulances and emergency vehicles were still arriving at the scene.

According to early reports, the vehicle sped down the centre of the 1km-long road, which is usually packed with people, until it hit a newspaper kiosk and stopped.

Witnesses spoke of panic and seeing people covered in blood. Several pushchairs could be seen abandoned at the side of the street.

Jordi Lino, who was on a bus going down Las Ramblas, said: “First I saw people running and then the van. There were injured people in the middle of the Ramblas.”

Eyewitness Lourdes Porcar told TV3 that she saw the van running people over. “It was going very fast, without caring about who was in its way,” she said.

TV3 said police sources had confirmed to it that one armed man was holed up in a Turkish restaurant near Las Ramblas and the Boqueria market.

But Catalan police said reports of gunfire in the Corte Inglés department store were untrue. They were advising people to follow official sources for updates.

Metro stations and shops close to site of the crash were closed.

The spokeswoman for a chain of 10 restaurants in the area said that about 600 people were stuck inside their establishments waiting for permission from the police to leave.

The Spanish newspaper El País, citing police sources, said the driver of the vehicle fled on foot.

Catalan emergency services said people should stay away from the area around Plaça de Catalunya.

Police have asked people to communicate via social media and messaging instead of phone calls, as mobile telephone coverage is saturated.

Mobile phone footage shows panicked, screaming tourists fleeing through the narrow streets beside Las Ramblas.

TV3 says there are unconfirmed reports that a second van was following the first but then drove off.

Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the centre of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrianised path in the centre of the street, but cars can travel on either side.

Spain has so far been spared the kind of extremist violence that has occurred in nearby France, Belgium and Germany, but it was hit by what is still Europe’s deadliest jihadi attack in March 2004, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by al-Qaida-inspired extremists.

The latest crash follows terrorist attacks with vehicles in France, Germany and the UK. Last July 86 people were killed in Nice, when a 19-ton truck mowed down people on the beach front. A Christmas market in Berlin was the scene of a similar atrocity in December, when 12 people were killed by a truck packed with steel. In London a speeding van hit pedestrians before attackers launched a knife attack in cafes and restaurants at Borough market in June. Eight people lost their lives in the attack, while at least 48 were wounded.

Vehicles have been used in several terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years, including a massacre that claimed 86 lives in the French city of Nice.

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