Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the van attack in Barcelona on Thursday that has killed at least 13 people was "jihadist terrorism" which required a global response.
"Today the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat and the response has to be global," Rajoy told a news conference in Barcelona.
He said he would call on other Spanish political parties to reaffirm the country's anti-terrorism pact.
Catalonia’s regional government said 100 people were also injured and the death toll could rise. Two people were arrested in connection with the killings -- but the perpetrator wasn’t one of them, Catalan officials told a news conference. Police raised the possibility that an explosion at a home earlier on Thursday that killed one person and brought down a building may be connected to the attack.
The driver mowed into the pedestrianized section of Las Ramblas, knocking people down as he continued for hundreds of meters down the avenue. He then jumped out of the van and fled, according to police. Las Ramblas, a busy avenue with bars and street artists at the heart of Barcelona’s tourist circuit, was strewn with bodies and rubble as passersby ran to help the wounded.
“The car came toward me, people were flying in the air. There were bodies everywhere,” Shari Weise, a 54 year-old visiting Barcelona from California said in a telephone interview. “The man next to me got hit and I jumped behind a pole, and pulled a 15 year-old boy behind the pole with me.”
Images of injured victims being tended to on the sidewalk are all too familiar in Europe. Terrorists in London drove into pedestrians on bridges in two deadly incidents this year. There was also an attack using a commercial vehicle in Stockholm. Last year, trucks plowed through crowds in Berlin and Nice.
In London, authorities responded by fortifying barriers designed to protect pedestrians. Concrete and metal blocks were erected to separate sidewalks from traffic. In Madrid -- which lived with Basque terrorism for decades before Islamist terrorism became the main threat -- most tourist thoroughfares don’t have the barriers that are used to protect institutional targets.
Islamic State claimed the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Spain has been a target of Islamist-inspired terrorism before. One of the worst incidents in Europe was in Madrid in 2004 when about 200 people were killed by bombs on early morning commuter trains just days before a general election.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will travel to Barcelona with his deputy and interior minister. Catalan National Assembly, a separatist group, meanwhile halted planned campaigning ahead of an independence referendum -- which Rajoy considers illegal -- planned for October.
“Terrorists will never defeat a united people that loves liberty in the face of barbarity,” Rajoy said in a Twitter posting.
Spain is the world’s biggest tourist destination after France and the U.S. and the Catalan city of Barcelona is among its star attractions. Spain received more than 75 million foreign visitors last year and tourism is a key provider of jobs.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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