Spain suspect says terror cell planned big attack on monuments

2017-08-22 22:18
The car involved in a terrorist attack in Cambrils, a city 120 km south of Barcelona. (Lluis Gene, AFP)

The car involved in a terrorist attack in Cambrils, a city 120 km south of Barcelona. (Lluis Gene, AFP)

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Madrid - A suspected member of the terror cell that unleashed carnage in Spain last week admitted to a judge on Tuesday that the jihadists had planned to hit monuments in an even bigger attack.

Mohamed Houli Chemlal, 21, and three others were charged with terrorist offences over the rampages in Barcelona and a seaside resort that killed 15 people and wounded more than 100.

They are the only surviving suspects from a 12-man cell whose members rammed a van into pedestrians on a tourist-packed boulevard in Barcelona on Thursday. Hours later, members of the jihadist group carried out a similar attack in Cambrils further south.

The four were charged with "belonging to a terrorist organisation, terror-related murder and possession of explosives," said a judicial source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chemlal, a Spaniard, told the judge that the cell was planning "an attack on an even greater scale, targeting monuments" using bombs, according to the source.

He had known of the plans for an attack "at least two months ago," he added.

'Imam wanted to blow himself up'

Chemlal was injured in an accidental explosion at the group's makeshift bomb factory on Wednesday evening. One of those killed in the blast was an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is thought to have radicalised him and other young suspects.

He had only survived because he was out on the porch when the blast occurred, the judicial source said.

While Chemlal told the judge the imam had wanted to blow himself up, two other suspects "blamed the imam for the plot while another two denied knowing him," the source added.

Earlier, police had revealed that the suspected jihadists had been preparing bombs for "one or more attacks in Barcelona".

Josep Lluis Trapero, head of police in Catalonia, said 120 gas canisters and traces of TATP components - a homemade explosive that is a hallmark of the Islamic State group that claimed the attacks - had been found at their bomb factory.

The accidental explosion in the house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona, forced the suspects to alter their plans.

Logistical support?

The suspects in court included Driss Oukabir, the older brother of Moussa who was killed by police in Cambrils on Friday along with four other suspects.

Also in court were Mohamed Aallaa, one of three brothers allegedly involved, and Salh El Karib, who manages a store that allows people to make calls abroad.

In court, Driss Oukabir admitted renting the van used in the Barcelona rampage, but said he did so for moving purposes.

Aallaa, who owned the Audi used in Cambrils, said the car was registered under his name for insurance reasons but that his brother Said, 19, used it.

Chemlal, dressed in hospital pyjamas and with his right hand bandaged, was brought in after a doctor determined he was fit for interrogation, a court spokesperson said.

The court hearing of the four suspects caps five days of angst following the twin vehicle assaults.

Spanish police shot dead Younes Abouyaaqoub, the suspected Barcelona van driver, on Monday in a dramatic end to the manhunt for the Moroccan national, who shouted "God is greatest" when he was killed.

He was the last fugitive member of the cell.

Besides the four men detained, the rest were killed, either by police or in the explosion in Alcanar.

While Catalan police say the cell has been dismantled, investigators are trying to determine if it had logistical or other forms of support from other individuals.

Questions are also arising about the group's possible international connections.

Audi in Paris, imam in Belgium

In Belgium, the mayor of the Vilvorde region said that Satty spent time in the Brussels suburb of Machelen - next to the city's airport - between January and March 2016.

On the other side of Brussels, the Molenbeek suburb has gained notoriety as a hotbed of international jihadists after the Brussels bombings in March 2016 and the Paris attacks in November 2015.

And in France, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told BFMTV that the Audi used to kill people in Cambrils had been detected by speed cameras in the Paris region while making "a very rapid return trip" days before the Spanish attacks.

Collomb is due to host Spanish counterpart Juan Ignacio Zoido on Wednesday for talks due to include anti-terrorism cooperation.

At least one of the suspects also spent a night in Zurich in December, according to Swiss police, who said it was too early to speculate about any connections with Switzerland.

The victims of the attacks were from three dozen countries, from as far afield as Australia, China and the United States.

Read more on:    spain  |  security

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