18 Agosto 2017 12:26
Terror grips Barcelona as over a dozen are killed in attacksA van driver ploughed down Barcelona, Spain’s bustling tourist boulevard, Las Ramblas, at 16.50 on Thursday afternoon. The white van is believed to have zigzagged around 500m down the famous street, that stretches 1.2km, in a suspected terrorist attack. The perpetrator managed to flee the scene on foot and is still at large. At least 14 people have been killed and 100 injured, with the death toll likely to rise. Another attack took place roughly eight hours later in the seaside resort town of Cambrils, 100km south-west of Barcelona. An Audi A3 ploughed into crowds in an incident that is being connected to the Barcelona attack. Seven people were injured, including one police officer. Five attackers, some of whom were wearing explosive belts, were later shot dead by police and controlled explosions were carried out. At the time of writing, three people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, but the whereabouts of the van driver who killed and injured many is unknown.
[caption id="attachment_6161" align="aligncenter" width="376"] BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 17: (Photo by Nicolas Carvalho Ochoa/Getty Images)[/caption]
A city in shockAcross Barcelona, the normality of work life and after-hour cervezas was disrupted by fragmented hearsay about a terror attack on social media. Before any new outlets had reported the incident, neighbourhoods were still alight with ferocious chatter, before all eyes were on the news. Just before 5pm, reports emerged that a speeding white van tore through the heart of a city unacquainted with the sinister violence seen in other popular European destinations. Tom Wheeler, 25, from Essex, UK, but now a permanent resident in Barcelona, was caught up in the attacks and had to run from the scene back to safety. After leaving his apartment on Carrer dels Tallers, an adjoining street off Las Ramblas, he saw the white van speeding down through the middle of the boulevard, mowing people down. ‘I could hear screaming and loud bangs and saw people running towards me,’ Wheeler told PlayGround+. ‘It was going so fast down the street, I instantly knew it was a terrorist attack because of others recently I and starting running back to my house. I could see people lying on the floor in Las Ramblas when I looked back: an image I will never forget. ‘I got back to my apartment and was in total shock. The whole of Carrer dels Tallers was on lockdown, I could see lots of police officers with guns running around. There seemed to be a real sense of events unfolding at a quick pace and no one knew exactly what was happening, but everyone was offering to help each other. It was a terrifying experience.’
[caption id="attachment_6162" align="aligncenter" width="208"] Tom Wheeler[/caption]We have become accustomed to a form of terrorism that’s nearly impossible to predict. Earlier this year, terrorists stormed London Bridge in the UK capital in a white van, before jumping out and stabbing people enjoying their Saturday night out. In 2016, a man in a lorry sped down Nice’s Promenade des Anglais on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. And, last December a truck drove into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, leaving 12 people for dead. Although shock and a feeling of numbness still echoes around Barcelona’s streets, radicalisation in Catalonia has become a growing problem. According to Real Instituto Elcano, of the total number of individuals sentenced for jihadist-related terrorist criminal offences in Spain between 1996 and 2013, 33.3% were arrested in Catalonia –up to 28.6% in the province of Barcelona. But these percentages are significantly higher when considering those sentenced between 2004 and 2012, rising respectively to 37.5% and 35.7%. Although the worst affected areas in Europe over the past few years have been France, the UK, Belgium and Germany, Spain has now seen its most deadly attack since the Madrid train bombing in 2004, which killed 192 people. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the van attack was ‘jihadist terrorism’ which required a global response, but how to tackle such unpredictable patterns of violence has left world leaders in limbo.
[caption id="attachment_6158" align="aligncenter" width="399"] BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 17: (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)[/caption]
Solidarity among Barcelona’s residents and touristsBarcelona has more commonly been in the headlines recently because of its growing anti-tourism sentiment. Residents have grown frustrated by unsustainable tourism policies and lack of government checks, which have resulted in hoards of tourists flooding the city and putting a strain on communities and infrastructure. The impact of sites like Airbnb have driven rent prices up and have altered some neighbourhoods beyond recognition. Arran, the youth wing of the radical CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), have been filmed slashing the tyres of rental bicycles and a tour bus in protest of unfettered tourism. Las Ramblas itself is known to be one of the most crowded and popular areas of any European city. Just walk down the tree-lined avenue and the sheer numbers of international holidaymakers crammed onto a thin stretch of pavement is overwhelming. Tragically, Las Ramblas fits the brief for a target of radical extremism. And yet, through all the tragedy and bloodshed, the people of Barcelona have come together with tourists affected in a show of solidarity against hate. Following the terror incident, #BarcelonaAttack started trending on Twitter and the site was awash with offers from Catalan residents of places to take refuge and messages of support and love. At the scene itself, tourists fled to nearby cafes and restaurants to find safety after the area was put on total police lockdown. Joel Feliu, manager of Paella Bar Boqueria on Pòrtics de la Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas, was just one of the many locals that aided tourists to safety in the immediate aftermath. ‘It was just a normal day at work and then we saw people running towards us in a blind panic,’ he said to PlayGround+, ‘we’re right on Las Ramblas so a crowd of people came hurtling towards us. We took them in and the police told us to pull our blinds down and lock the door. People were crying and hyperventilating, but we were like this for hours, until about 9pm, so everyone calmed down.’ Feliu offered people drinks and cigarettes, and as a group they watched the news unfold largely on their phones. ‘I didn’t actually want to see any footage so I tried to just distract myself,’ he admits, ‘but the sound of sirens and police was hard to ignore.’ Other gestures of generosity have come from Barcelona residents offering to help translate Catalan to English for families of the victims. A call-out on Facebook and Twitter for Catalan speakers has been shared across the platforms, and native citizens have shown their willingness to help. Larry Harkins, from Barcelona, has been calling every hospital in the city all morning offering assistance to families, and has been in constant contact with Protecció Civil to make sure they’re covered. ‘Of course I want to help the victims’ families, we need to come together in such horrible events and show we won’t be driven apart,’ he said. ‘This is a loving and open city and that won’t change.’