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Night of eerie silence in Barcelona after van rampage

Terror attack has shaken Spanish city

BARCELONA: British dance show contestant and actress Laila Rouass tweeted from inside a restaurant freezer where she was hiding to escape the Barcelona terrorist attack.

The actress, who has appeared in Holby City and Footballers' Wives, is on holiday in the city, reported the BBC.

The 46-year-old recounted her ordeal in a series of posts.

"In the middle of the attack," she wrote just after it had started.

"Hiding in a restaurant freezer. Happened so fast. Praying for the safety of everyone here."

Mrs Rouass said she also heard gunshots while inside the restaurant near Las Ramblas.

"Gunshots just heard. Armed police running down the street looking for someone," she tweeted.

Mrs Rouass ended her posts by tweeting: "Thank you to the staff at the restaurant for staying calm and keeping us safe. I love you Barcelona."

She hasn't posted any updates since Thursday evening, but the mood in Barcelona's old town was that of shock.

Stunned tourists dressed in shorts and T-shirts stood behind security tape in the early hours, witnesses to the shocking attack.

An eerie silence pervaded the centre of a city that would usually be bustling until the early hours.

Thirteen people were killed and more than 100 injured when a white van sped into the historic promenade, which was packed with tourists, knocking people down in a scene of chaos and horror.

Close to the statue of Christopher Columbus, which depicts the explorer pointing out to sea, a distressed Scottish couple in their 60s who watched the attack unfold studied the security cordon blocking off the street.

"We were sitting on the balcony of the hotel. We saw everything... the car... the panic everywhere," said the man, who did not want to be named, adding that they now could not get back to their hotel.

"The police, they arrived in two minutes, they were good," the woman said, staring blankly ahead.

"We had to talk with them."

As the city was bathed in sunshine hours earlier, Barcelona was shaken by the first attack on Spanish soil claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Its target was the crowd enjoying the summer afternoon, browsing stalls selling flowers and souvenirs along the central pathway of Las Ramblas, an avenue that stretches more than a kilometre towards the sea.

On a narrow street close by, 45-year-old Benjamin, a Barcelona resident, stood staring at the spot where the van hit a stall.

"Where we can see the forensic police working, in their white suits, that's where the van ran up against a kiosk," said the industrial mechanic.

In the city of 1.6 million people - where nine million tourists come to visit every year - several cruise ships were also waiting as passengers tried to return to the pier.

SHOW OF SOLIDARITY

The tragedy took the city by surprise: FC Barcelona was digesting a defeat to Real Madrid, the Catalan government was in the middle of its protracted fight for an independence referendum and security staff were striking at the airport.

But the city soon rallied in solidarity with those caught up in the devastation.

The strike was suspended, taxis offered rides free of charge and volunteers rushed to donate blood, according to local media.

Hotels close to Las Ramblas welcomed tourists, offering them shelter and blankets. - AFP

RELATED STORY

Brother of wanted suspect turns himself in to police

As soon as he saw his photo appear on TV, Mr Driss Oukabir, 28, turned himself in to the police in Ripoll, a town about 100km north of Barcelona.

It turned out that his documents were the ones used to hire the white van that went on the Las Ramblas rampage which killed 14 people. Mr Oukabir said his documents were stolen and insisted that he was in Ripoll at the time of the incident, town mayor Jordi Munell said.

Police suspect that Mr Oukabir's younger brother, named by Spanish media as 18-year-old Moussa, could have been involved, reported The Telegraph.

Moussa remains missing and is now being treated as a suspect, according to local media.

In a social media profile believed to belong to the teenager, he describes himself as a "street boy", reported the Mirror.

Recent major attacks in Europe

PARIS: The Barcelona terrorist attack was the latest fatal assault on a European city. Here are some of the major attacks in Europe in the past two years:

BELGIUM

  • March 22, 2016 Suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and a metro station, claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), killed 32.

BRITAIN

  • March 22, 2017 Five died when a man rammed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and then fatally stabbed a police officer. The attacker was shot dead by police.
  • May 22, 2017 A bombing at a pop concert by US star Ariana Grande in Manchester killed 22, including children. ISIS extremists claimed responsibility.
  • June 3, 2017 A van rammed into a crowd on London Bridge. The three assailants then attacked people with knives. Eight were killed, and police shot dead the attackers. ISIS claimed responsibility.

DENMARK

  • February 14, 2015 A gunman opened fire at a cultural centre in Copenhagen as it hosted a forum on Islam and free speech. A man was killed. Hours later, another man was shot dead at the city's main synagogue. Police killed the gunman, who had vowed allegiance to ISIS.

FRANCE

France has been the hardest hit among EU states, with 238 deaths.

  • January 7, 2015 Two brothers who had vowed allegiance to Al-Qaeda gunned down 12 people at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The next day, a man linked to ISIS shot and killed a policewoman in a Paris suburb. He took hostages at a Jewish supermarket just outside Paris the following day, killing four more. All three gunmen were killed by police.
  • November 13, 2015 France suffered its worst terror attack when 130 people died in a string of bombings and shootings at the Bataclan concert hall, several bars and restaurants in Paris and the Stade de France. ISIS claimed responsibility.
  • July 14, 2016 On this national holiday, a man rammed a truck into a crowd in the Mediterranean resort of Nice, killing 86. He was shot dead by police. ISIS claimed responsibility.

GERMANY

  • December 19, 2016 A man hijacked a truck and ploughed into shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12. The attacker was shot dead by police four days later. ISIS claimed responsibility.

RUSSIA

  • April 3, 2017Fourteen were killed when a bomb ripped through an underground train in Saint Petersburg. A group suspected of links to Al-Qaeda claimed the attack, which was blamed on a Russian suicide bomber born in Kyrgyzstan.

SWEDEN

  • April 7, 2017 A truck ploughed into shoppers outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, killing five. Police say an Uzbek confessed.

TURKEY

  • October 10, 2015 In the bloodiest attack in Turkey's history, 103 people were killed in twin suicide bombings targeting a pro-Kurdish rally in Ankara. The authorities blamed ISIS.
  • January 1, 2017 An Uzbek gunman killed 39 people - mainly Arab tourists celebrating New Year's Day - in a nightclub. The attack was claimed by ISIS, the first clear claim it has made for an attack in Turkey, although a number of other bombings have been attributed to the jihadist group. - AFP
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