Spain probe deepens as second suspect wins release
MADRID: One week on from the two deadly vehicle rampages in Spain, a second suspect was granted conditional release Thursday as a probe into the deadly attacks deepened.
Salh El Karib was allowed to go free, but required to report weekly to authorities, after the judge found that evidence against him was not solid enough to keep him under detention.
According to a court document, credit cards in Karib’s name were used to buy plane tickets for another suspect in custody, Driss Oukabir, and an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty.
Satty, who is believed to have been the mastermind of vehicle attacks that killed 15 and wounded more than 120, died in an explosion last week at the militants’ bomb-making factory.
But an investigation found that the shop he manages sells plane tickets as part of its regular business, which means he did not necessarily play a part in the terror cell.
Officers are also battling to root out a possible support network for the men, accused of ploughing vehicles into pedestrians on Barcelona’s busy Las Ramblas boulevard last Thursday and a seaside promenade in the resort town of Cambrils just hours later.
The international connections of the cell of mostly Moroccan nationals have also come under scrutiny as investigators retrace their movements to France and Belgium.
The scale of the assaults being prepared by the militant suspects emerged during a preliminary court hearing Tuesday, when Mohamed Houli Chemlal, 21, told the judge the group was planning “an attack on an even greater scale, targeting monuments” using bombs.
After Chemlal’s chilling admission, Barcelona authorities said security was being boosted at key tourist sites including the iconic Sagrada Familia church as well as at major events.
Seven days after the attack in Barcelona, life was slowly returning to normal at Las Ramblas.
“We are now even better protected, I see there is a lot of police,” noted Gonario Sirca, an Italian tourist.
Jose Gomez, a florist who was present when the van careered down the boulevard, said “the hardest was the day after what happened”.
“It’s difficult to come back here. But I can say now that I feel well,” he said.
Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, and the head of the regional government Carles Puigdemont were due to participate in an interfaith ceremony Thursday in memory of the victims.
But the attacks have sparked a rise in Islamophobic incidents.
Madrid police told AFP a Muslim woman had been “verbally and physically attacked by two or three people, who haven’t yet been identified,” though she was only slightly hurt.
In the southern city of Granada on Wednesday, 200 people rallied to protest the surge in anti-Islamic hate crimes following last week’s attacks.
‘Nails, detonators, gas canisters’
At least 500 litres of acetone, large quantities of nails and detonators as well as gas canisters were found at a house in the town of Alcanar south of Barcelona, court documents said.
They are ingredients of TATP — the explosive of choice of the Islamic State group, which has claimed its “soldiers” carried out the attacks.
But an accidental blast at the bomb factory in Alcanar on August 16, the eve of the Barcelona attack, forced the cell to alter its plans and turn to vehicles as killing machines.
Police said Thursday they had identified the remains of the last suspected member of the cell, Youssef Aalla, who was killed at the blast in Alcanar.
The explosion also killed the imam Satty, who is believed to have radicalised the young men in the cell.
Surveillance video footage of three of the young suspects showed them speaking to a shop’s checkout staff at the counter — two of them looking relaxed, a third more tense — just hours before the Cambrils attack.
Two freed conditionally
Karib was the second suspect granted conditional release. Mohamed Aalla, 27, who owns the car used in Cambrils was freed two days ago.
But another two suspects, Chemlal and Oukabir, 28, were on Tuesday remanded in custody and charged with terror-related offenses.
The four were the only surviving suspected members of the terror cell, which Spanish police said they had dismantled after gunning down the last man at large, the Barcelona van driver, Younes Abouyaaqoub, on Monday.