Barcelona van attack suspect may have crossed over to France

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Only one of 12 behind Barcelona van attack still at large, say Spanish police

BARCELONA: Spanish police hunting for a suspect after the Barcelona van attack that killed 14 people said yesterday they could not rule out that he had slipped over the border into France.

Spanish police said security operations were under way in Catalonia and on the French border as they try to find Moroccan-born Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, who they believe is the only one of 12 suspects still at large.

Others have been arrested, shot by police or killed in an explosion at a house in Catalonia a day before Thursday's van attack on Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous boulevard.

"We don't have any specific information on this, but it cannot be ruled out," Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero told a news conference in Barcelona when asked if Abouyaaqoub could have crossed into France.

Spanish media have said Abouyaaqoub was suspected of being the driver, who fled after the attack.

Mr Trapero said he could not confirm who was driving, but said investigators believed only one person was in the van.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a van drove through crowds of tourists and local people walking along Las Ramblas, leaving a trail of dead and 120 injured .

Hours later, police shot dead five men wearing fake explosive belts in the Catalan seaside resort of Cambrils after they rammed holidaymakers with a car and stabbed others, killing one woman.

Abouyaaqoub's mother Hannou Ghanimi, speaking to reporters, urged her son to give himself up to police, saying she preferred him being in prison to being dead.

The attacks were the deadliest in Spain for more than a decade.

Four people have been arrested in connection with the attacks - three Moroccans and a citizen of Spain's North African enclave of Melilla.

One focus of the investigation is on Ripoll, a quiet town set beneath the Pyrenees mountain range and ringed by forested hills, which was the home of a number of the youths, most of Moroccan nationality, who are suspected of involvement.

Three of those killed in Cambrils were aged between 17 and 24. A common thread running through the young men's lives was a local imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, whose landlord said he left Ripoll two days before the attack.

Spanish media have depicted Es Satty as being a possible ring-leader. Papers bearing what appeared to be French names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses were seen by reporters in Es Satty's apartment in Ripoll after it was searched by police.

Mr Trapero said investigators have identified two people from remains found in a house razed in an explosion on Wednesday in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, that police believe the suspects were using as a base.

Meanwhile, a British-Australian boy aged seven, who had been reported as missing, was killed in the attack an official said. - REUTERS