Spain presses manhunt for ringleader in dual attacks

Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was believed to be at large.

A man looks at flags, messages and candles placed after a van attack that killed at least 13, in central Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe’s latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish authorities pressed their search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as they looked into links among the Moroccan cell members.

Early in the morning, police searched two buses in northwest Catalonia in the hunt for any remaining members of the cell. Nothing was found in the searches in Girona and Garrigas, police tweeted.

Police also announced a series of controlled explosions Saturday in the town of Alcanar, south of Barcelona, where the carnage was planned in a rental house destroyed a day before the attacks by an apparently accidental blast. Authorities had initially written off the Wednesday night incident as a household gas accident, but took another look on Friday and returned on Saturday.

Police believe the Wednesday night blast, which killed at least one person and injured one of the people currently in custody, actually prevented a far deadlier attack using explosives, forcing the extremists to use more “rudimentary” vehicles instead.

In a tweet Saturday, Catalan police urged Alcanar residents not to be alarmed by the controlled explosions.

In the attacks that began Thursday afternoon, a white van swerved onto Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas pedestrian promenade, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 as it plowed down unsuspecting tourists and locals. A few hours later, five extremists began mowing down people along the boardwalk in the seaside resort of Cambrils.

One woman died and five others were injured before police shot and killed all five attackers.

One of the main suspects in the attacks, Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was believed to be at large. His name figures on a list of four main suspects sought in the attack.

The list was issued throughout Spain and into France, according to a Spanish official and a French police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the document.

The French official said Spain had flagged a rented van that was believed to have crossed the border to the north.

In addition to the five people killed in Cambrils, four people have been arrested as part of the investigation.

Copyright 2017 Associated Press