BARCELONA, SPAIN – Spanish police on Monday extended the search for the man who killed 13 people in Barcelona by ramming a van into crowds to all of Europe as details emerged of how he fled on foot through the streets of the old town before disappearing.
Authorities are looking for Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan-born man, who they believe was behind the wheel of a van that left a trail of dead and injured on Barcelona’s famed boulevard.
The Catalan regional government said all European police forces were now searching for Abouyaaqoub and authorities could not rule out that he had slipped across the border into France.
“This person is no longer just being sought in Catalonia but in all European countries, this is an effort by European police,” Joaquim Forn, in charge of home affairs in the northeastern Spanish region, told Catalan radio.
Forn confirmed that police were now almost certain Abouyaaqoub was the driver.
“Everything points to that,” he added.
Authorities have stepped up checks at Spain’s borders.
They also raided more homes overnight in Ripoll, a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees and close to France where many of the suspects in a 12-strong cell thought to be behind the attack had lived.
Others thought to be part of the suspected Islamist militant network have been arrested, shot by police or killed in an explosion at a house in Catalonia a day before Thursday’s van attack.
The attack in Barcelona was linked to another hours later in the resort down of Cambrils, further down the Mediterranean coastline from Barcelona.
A car crashed into passers-by there and attackers got out to try and stab people. Five suspects were shot dead, while a Spanish woman died in the attack.
Abouyaaqoub abandoned the van after zigzagging down Las Ramblas avenue at high speed, police have said. Witnesses had seen him walking away unarmed from the scene, they said.
Spanish papers El Pais and La Vanguardia said they had seen images of the man leaving Las Ramblas then crossing through La Boqueria food market, another tourist attraction, before disappearing.
El Pais published CCTV footage on Monday of a man wearing a black and white shirt similar to the one Abouyaaqoub wore when he was caught on a bank security camera the night before the attacks.
On Sunday, Spanish police said they had uncovered a cache of 120 gas canisters at a house believed to be the bomb-making factory of suspects in the attacks.
The suspected jihadis had been preparing bombs for “one or more attacks in Barcelona,” regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters, revealing that traces of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosive had also been found.
But the suspects accidentally caused an explosion at the house on the eve of Thursday’s attack in Barcelona — an error that likely forced them to modify their plans.
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attacks, believed to be its first in Spain.
In the small town of Alcanar, investigators combed the rubble of a house believed to be the suspects’ bomb factory, and where the gas canisters were uncovered.
Traces of TATP — a homemade explosive that is an IS hallmark — were also found at the house.
A neighbour, 61-year-old French retiree Martine Groby, said that four men “who all speak French” had been in the house next door since April.
“They were very discreet, too discreet. The shutters were closed, there was no music, no children, no women,” she recalled.
“Sometimes they would stay just two days and they would leave. They said hello to me but never looked me in the eye.”