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Spanish Authorities Continue Hunt For Suspects In Attacks

An undated handout photo sourced from social media shows 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, who is suspected of being the driver of the vehicle in Barcelona, Spain.
An undated handout photo sourced from social media shows 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, who is suspected of being the driver of the vehicle in Barcelona, Spain.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET

Spanish authorities say they have dismantled a terror cell of mostly Moroccan natives that is believed to be responsible for vehicle attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that killed 14 people and hurt more than 100 others.

But a manhunt continues for the alleged driver of a van used in the main attack on pedestrians on Thursday in Barcelona. Two other suspects are believed to be at large.

"The cell has been completely dismantled in Barcelona," Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said at a news conference on Saturday.

Officials are continuing to hunt for 22-year-old Moroccan national Younes Abouyaaqoub, who police say is the driver who plowed into the Las Ramblas thoroughfare in Barcelona, killing 13. He is thought to be one of a dozen members of a jihadi cell that first planned a bomb attack but switched to a vehicle attack after improvised explosives they were building unexpectedly went off, destroying a rental house they were using as a base of operations in the town of Alcanar, south of Barcelona.

Officials in France, where the group is believed to have rented a van used in the attack, were also searching for the suspects, officials said.

According to The Associated Press, police on Saturday announced a series of controlled explosions at the house, which was destroyed in an accidental blast on Wednesday, ahead of the other attacks.

Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero told reporters that the cell members' initial plan was to use the explosives in their attack and that it was only the accidental explosion that caused them to resort to using a vehicle, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

Authorities had originally written off the Wednesday blast, believing it was a household gas explosion. The explosion killed two members of the jihadist cell, police say.

NPR's Frank Langfitt, reporting from Spain, tells Weekend Edition Saturday that officials "think this was actually a botched bomb-making scheme."

Frank says the plan appears to have been ambitious, adding that there were at least 20 unexploded canisters still on the site of the house explosion, according to photographs of the scene.

The AP writes:

"All the suspects ... hail from Ripoll, a quiet, upscale town of 10,000 about 100 kilometers north of Barcelona.

"On Friday, police searched the apartment of Ripoll's imam, neighbors said. An apparent search warrant seen by The Associated Press authorized police to extract any terrorism-related 'weapons, ammunition, explosives, instruments, documents or papers' found in the apartment."

Spanish authorities are telling journalists that they believe the imam was responsible for radicalizing the terror cell involved in Thursday's attacks. He reportedly left the mosque in Ripolli abruptly in June. Local media is reporting that the imam, whose name has not been released, was among those killed in the explosion. NPR has been unable to confirm the reports.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 22, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
We erroneously posted a correction saying that our story had incorrectly reported the death count from the Barcelona attack as 13 and that it should have been 14. In fact, 13 is correct.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.