Birmingham imam can be extradited to stand trial in Spain, court rules | UK news

A Birmingham-based imam accused of trying to recruit people to fight for Islamic State can be extradited to Spain to stand trial, a court has ruled.

Spanish authorities have accused Tarik Chadlioui, 43, of making and uploading propaganda videos encouraging people to fight for Isis forces in Syria during two visits to Mallorca in 2014 and 2015.

The Moroccan-born Belgian national, from Sparkhill in Birmingham, faces a charge of collaboration with, or membership of, an armed group, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years if he is convicted.

His lawyers argued that extradition breached the father of eight’s human rights under article eight of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees a right to a family life. Westminster magistrates court was told that Chadlioui was the sole breadwinner for his family, who have been in the UK since 2015.

Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot rejected the claim, saying that the man’s family was eligible for benefits. She ruled on Tuesday that he could be extradited to Spain, saying there was a clear public interest in complying with the UK’s international extradition treaty obligations and “not being regarded as a foreign haven for those avoiding prosecution in foreign jurisdictions”.

“The family will be eligible for benefits and I would expect the mosques where the requested person has been preaching to support his family in these difficult circumstances,” said Arbuthnot.

“At worst, and I accept it might be a hardship, the oldest two children could go out and get jobs, they are 17 and 18 after all. I find that the seriousness of the offence and the public interest in upholding our extradition agreement outweigh the interference with Mr Chadlioui and his family’s rights.”

Chadlioui, who claims he is “an anti-terrorist preacher”, was remanded in custody and has seven days to apply to appeal against the decision. His lawyer, Malcolm Hawke, told the court: “His defence is that he has made thousands of these videos; why has he not been arrested in Belgium? If he was this Isis recruitment agent, this would have been picked up long before he came to the UK.”

Chadlioui, who ran a YouTube channel with over 16,000 subscribers, was one of six people arrested on 28 June in Mallorca and in the UK and Germany as part of a Spanish investigation into violent recruitment videos. All of those arrested were described as having Moroccan or dual Moroccan nationality.

The Spanish investigation started in 2015, when a series of videos appeared online showing how a young Muslim in Spain was recruited and sent to fight in Syria. Chadlioui is accused of travelling to Mallorca to steer a jihadist cell, which worked to recruit young people to travel to conflict zones to fight.

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Sweden rejects asylum claim by 106-year-old Afghan woman | World news

A 106-year-old Afghan woman who made a perilous journey to Europe, carried by her son and grandson through mountains, deserts and forests, is facing deportation from Sweden after her asylum application was rejected.

Bibihal Uzbeki is severely disabled and can barely speak. Her family has appealed against the rejection, and she is allowed up to three appeals, a process that could take a long time. The applications of other family members are in various stages of appeal.

Their journey made headlines in 2015, when they were part of a huge influx of people who came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. They traveled by foot and on trains through the Balkans before finally reaching Sweden.

The Swedish Migration Agency confirmed it has made a decision on the case and said age doesn’t by itself provide grounds for asylum.

Uzbeki arrived at the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia in October 2015 after what she said had been a 20-day journey with her 17 family members to reach Europe, with her 67-year-old son and a 19-year-old grandson often carrying her on their backs.

Uzbeki spent some time in the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia during her long journey to Sweden from Afghanistan.

Uzbeki spent some time in the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia during her long journey to Sweden from Afghanistan. Photograph: Marjan Vucetic/AP

Her rejection letter came during Ramadan. While the family avoided telling her, the constant grief from her granddaughters made her suspicious.

“My sisters were crying,” explained 22-year-old Mohammed Uzbeki. “My grandmother asked, ‘Why are you crying?’”

The family said that soon after she understood her request was denied, her health started deteriorating and she suffered a debilitating stroke.

The family feels the plight of Afghans is being ignored by Swedish authorities. Many countries in Europe deny asylum to Afghans from parts of the country considered safe.

“The reasoning from the migration agency is that it’s not unsafe enough in Afghanistan,” said Sanna Vestin, the head of the Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups. But she said many of the big cities cited as safe are not at the moment.

Before their journey to Sweden, the family had been living illegally in Iran for eight years. They left Afghanistan because of an ongoing war and insecurity, but Mohammed Uzbeki said it’s difficult to prove that the family faces a specific enemy if they return.

“If I knew who was the enemy, I would have just avoided them,” he said, citing Islamic State, the Taliban and suicide bombers as possible dangers.

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‘These boys were raised among us’: terror cell town reels after Catalonia attacks | World news

A dark, narrow staircase leads up to the seventh-floor flat in the small Catalan town of Ripoll from where Abdelbaki Es Satty allegedly masterminded the terrorist cell that struck in Barcelona last Thursday.

A bottle of the Moroccan imam’s scent sits on a sideboard, the miswak root he used to clean his teeth lies on a bedroom shelf, and his green Qur’an nestles behind the TV where he watched the daily news.

“He didn’t talk much,” said Es Satty’s flatmate, Nordin. “He seemed normal. His face and words were normal. I didn’t know what problems he had in his head.”

The last Nordin saw of Es Satty was on Tuesday morning, when the imam left home with a suitcase, saying he was going to visit his family in Tétouan in northern Morocco.

“He said goodbye and told me he would be back in time for the Lantern festival [on 1 September],” recalled Nordin, who said the imam drove off in a large white car. “I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.”

Abdelbaki Es Satty’s Qur’an inside the flat used by the imam of Ripoll.

Abdelbaki Es Satty’s Qur’an inside the flat used by the imam of Ripoll. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

On Monday, however, Catalan police confirmed that Es Satty never went to Morocco. Instead, DNA of his remains have been found amid the debris of a bomb-making factory in Alcanar that exploded the day after he left home.

Spanish anti-terrorism investigators are now working on the assumption that the imam was the “catalyst” in the radicalisation a cell of a dozen mostly young Moroccan men in Ripoll, where he had been leading prayers and teaching Arabic for the past two years.

There were three sets of brothers among the alleged terrorists, many of whom went to the local Abat Oliba school and played football on the pitches next to the Ter river.

Ripoll is no Muslim ghetto, but a quiet, moderately prosperous town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is famous for its monastery, Santa Maria de Ripoll, which was founded in the 9th century by Count Wilfred the Hairy, an important figure among Catalan nationalists.

About 5% of the town’s 11,000 population are Muslim. Most are Moroccans who started arriving in the early 1990s to work at local factories.

Interviewed on Monday, Ripoll’s officials and residents expressed their shock that boys who were considered good students could have had their heads turned to the point that they were responsible for last week’s atrocities.

Unemployment has risen in recent years but local officials discounted it as a major factor in the radicalisation of the town’s terror cell, because most had jobs or were students. “We’re in shock. These boys were raised among us. There’s no ghetto here. They were our neighbours,” said Dolors Vilalta, the secretary of security in the municipal government.

“We had no inkling. If we had a hint we would have acted, but there was nothing,” she said. “Trust is broken. The feeling of security is gone. But we can’t give in to anger. That would be dangerous. We must move on.”

Relatives, friends and neighbours blame Es Satty. After he arrived in town, young Muslim men spent more time at the mosque.

One local Catalan man, who declined to give his name, said he used to play football with Younes Abouyaaqoub, confirmed by CCTV images released on Monday as the man who drove a van into crowds on Las Ramblas.

“He was a quiet guy who never seemed violent,” he said of the Moroccan, who grew up in the community.

Members of the Muslim community in Ripoll gather along with relatives of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils to denounce terrorism and show their grief.

Members of the Muslim community in Ripoll gather along with relatives of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils to denounce terrorism and show their grief. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

Younes’s brother Houssaine, who was shot by police in Cambrils early on Friday morning, worked at a local kebab shop and was said to be friendly to all his customers. “They must have been brainwashed,” said a schoolfriend. “Otherwise I can’t see how they would have done this.”

A 21-year-old Catalan woman – who like many others declined to give her name because everyone knows everyone in this small town – said she had known one of the terrorists, Mohamed Houli, since childhood.

“He was a good friend,” she said. “At school he never had any problems with anyone. He loved football and cycling. Everyone thought he was Catalan.”

Houli was found alive in the ruins of the bomb factory blast. He has been arrested and his testimony is thought to have been the key to the progress of the investigation.

Es Satty had been identified as a person of interest even before his DNA was confirmed at the bomb factory.

He was the only one of the 12 suspects with a criminal record. According to Spanish media reports he was convicted of marijuana smuggling and had spent time in Castellón prison in Valencia, where he is said to have met at least one of the perpetrators of Spain’s last major terrorist attack, the Madrid bombing of 11 March 2004. Local media say his name was also mentioned in reports about the recruitment of Spanish youths who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State.

Nordin says police came to search the home on Friday night. They climbed into the attic, looked inside the cistern and ripped off ceiling panels. The imam’s room is still as they left it – clothes pulled from drawers and dumped on the floor between a skewed mattress.

A police officer stands guard at a blocked road near Ripoll.

A police officer stands guard at a blocked road near Ripoll. Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images

They also questioned Nordin, who moved into the flat’s other small room four months ago. The 45-year-old Moroccan market stall worker – who did not want to give his full identity because he fears repercussions for his family – told them the imam had never received a single visitor at the apartment. In June he had left for more than a month, saying he was visiting family in Morocco. He returned less than a week before the attack.

Nordin said Es Satty rarely read his Qur’an and would only pray in his own room or the mosque. “Islam had nothing to do with the killings here or in France,” he said, then tapped his head again. “The problem is here.”

At the town hall, the mayor, Jordi Munell, looked as if he had not slept for days. He said he was not just grappling with the security operation and the media attention, but the bigger question of how this happened. “We don’t understand. These boys weren’t marginalised. They were neighbours, teammates, supermarket workers, schoolfriends.”

The trigger, he guessed, was the arrival of the imam in 2015. Although he gave no indication of being a radical, Es Satty was withdrawn from wider society. The mayor believes he was quietly grooming local youths to become jihadists, not openly at the Islamic centre or the mosque but through personal connections among a group of friends and brothers.

“He was like the guru of a sect who captivated some weak-minded young men and the seduced them into horrific acts of indiscriminate barbarity,” Munell said.

The mayor is now trying to heal the wounds in his community.

“I hope people here can be emotionally intelligent enough to distinguish between the Daesh [Islamic State] jihadists and the Muslim community. The Islamic groups here want good relations and to play a part in society. Daesh wants to divide us and disrupt our lives. They don’t want us at the beach, at football stadiums, at Las Ramblas. We must fight them by continuing to go to those places and by continuing to play football with our Muslim friends. If we don’t Daesh is the winner.”

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Reflections on the Barcelona attacks | Letters | World news

We should always remember that the difference between liberal democracies and jihadi terrorists is that we embrace life and freedom, and theirs is a death cult intent on destroying freedom (Fighting terror means protecting freedom, 19 August). In the light of the dreadful attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, there are lessons to be learned from Spanish history. The golden age of Spain from the year 711, under moderate Muslim rulers, heralded an age of relative harmony between the different faiths of the country. Christians and Jews were granted “dhimmi” status, and allowed to practice their religion. By contrast, the radical Islamic Almohades, who assumed control of the country in the 12th century, persecuted other faiths. This pattern was repeated by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, with the Spanish Inquisition of 1478. Societies will only thrive if the ruling faith makes place for people of other faiths, but unfortunately this simple notion is anathema to fundamentalist Islam.
Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott emphasised how we divide the world into “me” and “not me” from our earliest moments, whether through smell, age, class, gender, sexuality, religion, or politics. Multiple differences and beliefs jostle side by side in a successful liberal democracy, which reflects on past history. Those “believers” who tortured and killed non-believers in previous centuries are not seen as holy in this century, although as Afua Hirsch points out (Opinion, 22 August) we have not adequately rethought our slave-owning history.

The danger we are now witnessing is the process by which a small group of largely young people in transitional vulnerable periods of life, often refugees or children of refugees, come to feel they are without adequate identity and community. They are dangerously vulnerable to a pressure to fight to the death in order to die in company that they feel recognises them as having a higher purpose.

Thanks to Peter Kosminsky, who has always been willing to face the big issues with intelligence and passion. It is indeed sad that honourable people could be retraumatised by the (albeit censored) sights shown. But full sights of executions and floggings carry on globally out of western sight, though in plain sight online. Having a TV channel providing such intelligent and painful political drama as C4’s The State (Report, 22 August) is a hallmark of a successful democracy. The task of the reflective adult (of whatever belief or race) is to manage the tension between me and not-me.
Dr Valerie Sinason

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Spain terror attacks death toll rises to 15 as main suspect hunted across Europe | World news

Catalan authorities have definitively linked the death of a man found stabbed in a car outside Barcelona to last week’s terrorist attacks, raising the death toll to 15, as a manhunt for the main suspect was extended across Europe.

The victim was identified as Pau Pérez, a Spaniard from Vilafranca del Penedès, 40 miles (64km) from Barcelona.

He was found fatally stabbed in a Ford Focus that had forced its way through a police checkpoint on Thursday, just after a van ploughed into crowds in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard, killing 13 people.

Police had fired at the car, injuring an officer, and initially thought the man they found in the car had been killed by the gunfire. An investigation revealed he had been stabbed.

Police believe Pérez was stabbed by Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan national who is alleged to have driven the van along Las Ramblas.

Abouyaaqoub fled the scene of the attack on foot and is thought to have killed Pérez to take his car and escape the city.

Police have set up 800 vehicle checkpoints and tripled the number of officers working on anti-terrorism operations after the attack, but Abouyaaqoub continues to evade them.

El País newspaper published images on Monday of a man it said was Abouyaaqoub apparently making a getaway on foot after the Barcelona van attack. The three photographs show a slim man in sunglasses walking through what El País says is La Boqueria market, just off Las Ramblas.

Describing Abouyaaqoub as about 5ft 11 (1.80 metres), police tweeted four photographs of the man with short black hair, including three pictures in which he was wearing a black and white striped T-shirt. He is “dangerous and could be armed,” police said,

Catalan police released these images of the suspect.

Catalan police released these images of the suspect. Photograph: Catalan police/EPA

Intelligence agencies had no warning of the 12-man jihadi cell that was originally planning a large-scale bomb attack before an accidental explosion at a house they were using in the town of Alcanar forced a change of plan.

Five were shot by a police officer during a second attack in Cambrils, where a Spanish woman was killed, and four have been detained.

Police said on Monday they had strong evidence that Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam of the small town that was home to most of the attackers, was among the dead in the Alcanar explosion.

Es Satty, whom the police suspect of radicalising the young jihadis from Ripoll, was jailed in Castellón in Valencia in 2010 for smuggling cannabis. He was released in 2014.

It is reported that while in prison he met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 people dead and about 2,000 wounded.

His name also appears in a report after five men were arrested south of Barcelona in Vilanova i la Geltrú on charges of recruiting men to fight in Iraq.

Spain terror cell

Spain is in three days of mourning for the victims of the attacks, which were claimed by Islamic State. Las Ramblas is filled with about a dozen ever-widening pavement tributes of candles, flowers and messages of sympathy and defiance.

In Seville, anti-Muslim slogans have appeared on a building belonging to a Muslim foundation. In a mass at Valencia Cathedral, Antonio Cañizares, the archbishop of Valencia, warned against “rifts between religions”.

“There is no greater blasphemy than the murder of innocents,” he said. “Islamist jihadism knows nothing but hate – hate for God and for his most beloved creatures, human beings.”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Solidarity must extend far beyond the victims of terror | Editorial | Opinion

Spain has been a model of solidarity in the three days since the terror attacks that killed 14 people in Barcelona and Cabrils. That number is now known to include the seven-year-old Julian Cadman, who had dual British-Australian nationality and whose engaging image has been on front pages. He had been missing since the savage vehicle attack on Thursday afternoon. On Sunday morning the king and queen led the mourners at a service in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s cathedral, which, perhaps paradoxically in the circumstances, was conceived by Antoni Gaudí as a paeon to faith and nationalism. More than 1,500 people packed the church, while nearby Las Ramblas continued to be a focus for grief and resistance.

But behind the solidarity, Spain’s national cohesion faces more stresses than in most European countries. At least eight of the terrorists appear to have grown up in one small town, Ripoll. Their horrified families are blaming Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam of one of the town’s mosques, for radicalising their sons. The small community, where one in 10 residents is a migrant, is in a state of shock to discover that football-loving kids who appeared entirely comfortable with their Spanish identity set out on such a murderous course. Police, who are investigating what they now say was a plot to launch a huge terror attack, are trying to establish whether the imam died in a gas explosion that destroyed a house last Wednesday.

Yet this is a region that is uncomfortably familiar with conflicts of identity. Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, attended the Sunday service with the king and queen, but it was a rare joint appearance with the monarchs for the republican politician, who is the architect of the unofficial referendum on independence that is scheduled to take place in less than six weeks’ time. Madrid continues to insist the plebiscite is illegal and that it will do everything it can to stop it happening. The last Catalan president who organised a similar referendum has been banned from public office for two years.

Thursday’s attack is likely to be used by Madrid to add to the pressure on the regional government. The argument has already been rehearsed in the national capital’s newspaper El País, which said it was a wake-up call for the Catalan government, described independence as a fantasy and called on the regional politicians to “ditch the democratic nonsense … and start working for our real interests”.

There are plenty of people, not just in the darker corners of social media, who believe there is a link between terror and refugees. Late last year, Europol reported Islamic State was deliberately trying to radicalise vulnerable refugees in order to inflame the migration crisis and turn EU citizens against refugees seeking asylum. That makes the challenge Barcelona faces now, to sustain the qualities of a multicultural cosmopolitanism, the youthful and open approach that has made it so beloved, the more important. It has a fine record: its recent hostility to rapidly growing tourism, partly aggravated by the way Airbnb has driven up rents in the city, is more than matched – as banners during anti-tourism protests showed – by its readiness to welcome refugees. It describes itself as a “refugee city” and it has an impressive plan for comprehensive reception and resettlement facilities. But Barcelona’s offer of welcome is not shared absolutely everywhere in Spain, and, last week, the UN refugee agency warned the country was struggling to cope with the 9,300 refugees who have already arrived this year. That number will only increase as the route from Libya becomes ever more dangerous and some of the tens of thousands who risk the crossing to Italy seek a safer route.

The past year has seen terror strike half a dozen European countries. Events in Spain were still unfolding when a man went on the rampage in the Finnish town of Turku, murdering two women. His ethnicity, like that of the Spanish terrorists, was Moroccan. These brutal murders have played a part in poisoning the atmosphere against migrants. While Angela Merkel of Germany stoutly upholds her commitment to refugees, the EU collectively has failed at every turn, unable even to ensure that members honour the commitments they have already made to ease the burden on the frontline states of Greece and Italy. This is a desperate tragedy for millions fleeing endemic violence and insecurity. It threatens, too, the precious cohesion of neighbourhoods. And it is a kind of victory for the terrorists of all sides who seek to undermine Europe’s universal values.

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Hunt continues for driver of van in Barcelona attack | World news

A 22-year-old Moroccan national is at the centre of the Spanish police’s search for the driver of the van used in the Barcelona attack.

Younes Abouyaaqoub is understood to be the chief suspect for the attack on Las Ramblas that killed at least 13 and injured more than 130.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, police in Catalonia said they were searching for the man, who is thought to be a key member of a 12-strong jihadist cell responsible for the attacks.

A photograph of Younes Abouyaaqoub released by the Catalan regional police.

Younes Abouyaaqoub. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

On Friday it emerged that another suspect, Moussa Oukabir, who is thought to have rented the van, was among five men shot dead as they launched a second attack in the coastal town of Cambrils.

The teenager, said to be 17 or 18 years old, is suspected of using his brother’s documents to hire the vehicle that ploughed through pedestrians in the Barcelona tourist hotspot on Thursday evening.

He reportedly died along with Said Aallaa, 19, and Mohamed Hychami, 24, who were part of a group that mounted a similar attack in Cambrils that left one woman dead and six people injured.

The identities of the other two dead jihadists are yet to be confirmed by police.

Four men, aged 21, 27, 28 and 34, who were arrested in connection with the attack, remain in custody. Three are Moroccan and one is Spanish. Police said none of them were previously known to the security services for terror-related reasons.

Moussa Oukabir’s older brother, Driss Oukabir, is reported to be one of those detained.

Several of those suspected of involvement in the attacks are thought to come from Ripoll, an inland town of 10,000 people about 60 miles (100km) north-west of Barcelona. Police on Friday searched the apartment of the town’s imam, neighbours said.

An apparent search warrant seen by the Associated Press authorised police to extract any terrorism-related “weapons, ammunition, explosives, instruments, documents or papers” found in the apartment.

Despite fears that Abouyaaqoub is still at large, Spain on Saturday decided to maintain its terrorist threat alert at level four, the second-highest level, declaring that no new attacks were imminent. The interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said the country would nevertheless reinforce security for events that draw large crowds and popular tourist sites.

“We are going to redirect our efforts and will adapt these to every place or area that needs special protection,” Zoido told a news conference, adding that Spanish authorities considered the cell behind the attacks had been fully dismantled.

About 34 nationalities were among almost 130 people wounded in the attacks in Las Ramblas and in Cambrils, which lies around 70 miles (110km) to the south-west.

Thirteen of the 14 victims have been identified, although not all have been named. Five were Spanish, three were German, two were Italian, with one from the United States, Belgium and Portugal respectively.

Authorities said 54 people injured in the attacks were still in hospital on Friday night, with 12 in a critical condition and 25 in a serious condition.

Relatives of a seven-year-old who became separated from his mother during the Barcelona attack are continuing to appeal for information. The father and grandmother of Julian Alessandro Cadman are travelling to Spain from Australia as the wait for news continues, family member Debbie Cadman said.

Speaking after the family’s initial plea for help, the prime minister, Theresa May, said a child with dual British nationality was believed to be among those unaccounted for.

Four Australians were injured in the attack, the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said.

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said one Canadian was killed and four injured during the attacks.

Police have revealed that the terrorists behind the rampage were preparing bigger attacks, with an explosion on Wednesday at a house in Alcanar believed to have robbed the killers of materials to use in larger-scale operations.

Reports from Spain had earlier suggested the terror cell may have been planning an attack using gas canisters.

Police believe that an explosion at this house in Alcanar on Wednesday night is linked to the attacks

Police believe that an explosion at this house in Alcanar on Wednesday night is linked to the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. Photograph: Jaume Sellart/EPA

Police are also looking for a white Renault Kangoo vehicle which is believed to have been rented by the suspects and could have crossed the border into France, according to French media.

The attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils took place around eight hours apart on Thursday afternoon and in the early hours of Friday.

In an echo of the London Bridge attack in June, Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont said the five terrorists in the Cambrils car were wearing fake suicide belts when they were stopped. Police revealed that an axe and knives were also found in the vehicle, with one of the latter used to wound one person in the face before the terrorists were gunned down.

Ben Wallace, the UK security minister, said the terror threat to Britain was rising as Islamic State loses battles and territory in Syria and Iraq.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the threat is still increasing, partly driven by the fact Isis is collapsing in Syria and people are either unable to get out there to fight for Isis and so they look to do something at home, or also because people have come back and tried to inspire people with their stories and tales of the caliphate. I think those two things mean that the threat is to some extent increasing.”

Wallace rejected suggestions that the government’s voluntary anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent, could be made compulsory. Simon Cole, the police lead for Prevent, had recently said that a debate was needed about introducing an element of compulsion for certain groups, such as returnees from Syria.

Meanwhile police in Finland have said a stabbing in the city of Turku on Friday was being investigated as murder with possible terrorist intent.

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‘Las Ramblas cries but it is alive’: Barcelona recovers historic defiance | World news

From the death, confusion and fear of Thursday’s terrorist attack, the Barcelona boulevard of Las Ramblas has returned to its historic role as a centre of life, reflection and defiance.

The paving stones on which the victims died have been cleaned of blood and transformed into a shrine that widens by the hour as mourners bring more tokens of sympathy – flickering candles, bunches of flowers, soft toys and messages of solidarity, love and defiance from around the world.

The words are in Arabic, English, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French and Hebrew. They come from individuals, embassies and business groups, from tour parties and religious groups.

“Las Ramblas cries, but it is still alive,” read one. “Stop Daesh. Stop fascism,” asserted another. “No words. Just love,” concluded another.

But the most common phrase was “No tinc por” – the Catalan expression for “We are not afraid”, which was also shouted out after a minute of silence on Friday at a memorial service attended by tens of thousands of people, including the king of Spain, the Spanish prime minister, the Barcelona mayor and the president of the Catalan government, who stood side by side in a rare display of unity for this fiercely independent region. The nation is in the midst of three days of mourning, but there is far more than grief on display on Las Ramblas, which has never been a place where time stands still.

Shortly before the Spanish civil war in 1936, the revolutionary poet Federico García Lorca described Barcelona’s main thoroughfare as the most joyful street in the world. It was he said, “the street where all the four seasons live together. The only street I wish would never end. Rich in sounds, abundant in breeze, beautiful in its encounters, old in its blood: Rambla de Barcelona.”

Two women hold placards that read ‘We suffered it too’ and ‘We are against any injustice’ at an impromptu memorial two days after a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona’

Two women hold placards that read ‘We suffered it too’ and ‘We are against any injustice’ at an impromptu memorial two days after a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona’ Photograph: Reuters

These words are now circulating as never before on social media, as more people are drawn physically to the space where 14 people were killed and dozens more injured by a van driven at high speed through the crowds by Moroccan jihadists.

Guillem Gargallo, a restaurant waiter who had come by motorcycle to light a candle, was in tears, but determined not to let sadness breed anger. “This is very hard for us Catalans. We love our city. We never thought this would happen here,” he said. “We must maintain our normal lives. If we dwell on it too much, it will pull us all down.”

Most of the kiosks in the centre of Las Ramblas are closed. Every 50-100 metres is a shrine. At night, hundreds of people gather around these glowing pools of remembrance. Some stop by on the way home from work. Others during a walk with their dogs or on the way back from shipping. Many were tourists, snapping sad-faced selfies against the latest backdrop of shared anxiety and anger.

The murderous route appears to have been chosen for maximum global impact. As well as being crammed with camera-carrying tourists hooked up to social networks around the world, the 500 metre stretch of killing started and ended on two of the city’s most famous and symbolic landmarks: the Canaletes fountain, where fans of Barcelona FC usually celebrate their team’s triumphs; and the Mosaico de Joan Miró – one of three artworks by the Catalan surrealist that the city commissioned to welcome overseas visitors arriving by air, sea and land.

At the former, one local football fan, Josep Gargallo turned up, as he has done countless times, in his team’s football shirt, but this time he was paying his respects and trying to salvage something positive from the loss. “It’s still sinking in, but I believe this will make our city a better place,” he said. “We are very united. It makes me proud the way people have responded with offers of help and hospitality.”

A few steps from here is the building where George Orwell first stayed when he came to join the International Brigade in the fight against fascism in the 1930s. Back then, Las Ramblas was a centre of socialist idealism, fluttering with red and black flags, More recently, the displays are more likely to be advertising and – until last Thursday – the major concerns were excessive tourism, gentrification and tensions over Catalan independence.

Already there are accusations that this tragedy is being exploited in the tussle between Madrid and Barcelona over that independence. Some locals grumbled at an El País editorial yesterday that suggested the city had dropped its guard because it was too focused on an upcoming referendum. The counter-argument here is that Madrid is responsible for the lack of coordination between the Catalan and Spanish police in counter-terrorism. But most people were at pains to keep such disputes at bay. There was a notable absence of flags from either side at the memorial ceremony and on the street.

“This is not the time to go into that issue. We’re all crying for the same reason. We’re all praying for the victims,” said Lucia Gil, a teacher from Salamanca, who sat in reflection beside the Mosaico de Joan Miró, now entirely covered by candles and flowers. “I was thinking about the blood that was on this spot. I was thinking it could have been me. I was going to walk here at that time, but I stopped in a side street to get my nails done. That manicure saved my life.”

On another side-street, dozens of people fled into a tapas restaurant called Bo de Boqueria. They closed the door and took everyone to a terrace at the back of the building. “We thought we were going to be killed. People were shouting and crying,” recalls waiter Imran Sajid. “For the first 10 minutes it was total confusion. Then we put on the TV and saw what had happened.”

A placard reading ‘Pray for Barcelona’ on Las Ramblas.

A placard reading ‘Pray for Barcelona’ on Las Ramblas. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

While the immediate fear of an attack has abated, his longer-term concern is about the impact on business.

“This is going to affect us badly. I’m 100% sure of that. People will now think twice about coming to Barcelona,” said the Pakistan-born waiter. “It’ll be like France. Many people will not want to visit.”

Having lived in the city for 14 years, Sajid said he did not expect a backlash against the Muslim community. “The Spanish aren’t like that. They are very open-minded. They accept you no matter your nationality or religion. It’s a welcoming place for migrants compared to the US or UK,” he said. Others are not so sure.

Carmen Pasa, a Romanian who is married to a Moroccan, was one of very few in a headscarf to pay her respects at Las Ramblas. She said she had been crying on and off for a day. “I was too frightened to come at first,” she said. “Today, I wanted to put a candle but there are too many people here now so I have decided to do it tomorrow.” Her worries were not just related to acts of terrorism. “I have felt hostility before and don’t want to feel it again,” she said, breaking into tears.

Although Barcelona has long been a transit point between northern Africa and northern Europe, most of the city’s Muslim community have arrived since the 1960s. Most are Pakistanis and Moroccans, but there is a wide diversity of origins as well as divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Although there have been arrests of terrorists from Girona and Tarragona, until now jihadism was thought to have been relatively weak in Spain, from which 160 people are known to have joined Isis in Syria and Iraq, compared to more than 1,000 from France.

Intelligence chiefs say this is because Spain is better prepared to deal with terrorism, thanks to techniques developed during the four-decade conflict between the government and the Basque separatist group, Eta. But it is also because the Muslim population is smaller (2.1% of Spain’s 46 million people, compared with to the 7.5% of France’s 67 million, and 4.8% of Britain’s 65 million). Some believe that Muslims are also better integrated.

At a late-night kebab restaurant in the El Raval district, the chefs – all from Morocco – said Barcelona was a more welcoming place than most cities in Europe because it was easier to secure documentation to live and work. But many fear this could now change.

“I haven’t experienced any racism here in 12 years,” said a Moroccan, who gave only his first name, Omar. He said he feels more comfortable in Barcelona than in his own country. Chatting over a beer at a tapas restaurant, the 28-year-old chef said he had been encouraged by his Spanish friends, who posted messages of support on social networks. But he fears the attack – even though it was on international tourists rather than Barcelona itself – would stir up hostility to people like him.

“Some people are saying all Moroccans and Arabs are the same. Others differentiate,” he said. “But now I feel that the majority of people hate Arabs.”

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Alcanar: an unlikely town where terrorists’ aspirations were built and dashed | World news

The young men on their motorbikes had been coming and going for months, the sound of engines throbbing and scattering stones on the dirt track leading to their country house in Alcanar, eastern Spain.

Neighbours doubted that the young-looking men of north African origin had rented the house as a holiday home, despite the views of the Mediterranean. But they knew that the property bore the hallmarks of repossession by Banco Popular, having lived through a destructive, loan-fuelled property crash. Spaniards often do not feel much concern when squatters take to such places.

“Perhaps someone should have called the police,” said Carmen Circiumaru, who lives a few doors away. “But they never did anything that seemed especially suspicious.” Indeed, the young men and at least one older, bearded man who sometimes appeared here, were quiet and respectful. It was not until an explosion ripped through the building late on Wednesday night, raining masonry on to their gardens, that people began to worry. And when a van ploughed its way through the crowds in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas just hours later, that worry built into something else.

Investigators believe this is where the ghastly events in Barcelona and the beachtown of Cambrils, which claimed the lives of 14 people and injured dozens more, started. A deadly cocktail of youthful nihilism, violence, radicalism and a desire to end life in a blaze of blood-drenched fame had originated in this shabby, forgotten corner of the Catalan coast.

Police carried out controlled explosions at the Alcanar house on Saturday morning and continued to pick their way through the rubble as they try to put together the story of how a dozen young men – at least one of them still, at 17, legally a minor – brought carnage to Catalonia. Seven are already dead and four are in custody. Five were shot dead by police in Cambrils in the small hours of Friday morning and one was discovered under the rubble at Alcanar the previous day.

Police have now arrested the only survivor of the Alcanar explosion, Mohamed Houli Chemlal, who had been taken to a hospital in nearby Tortosa. The remains of at least one another man were found in the rubble on Friday. Spanish media has linked those remains to an overnight raid on the apartment of Abdelbaki Se Satty, a 40-year-old former imam in the quiet country town of Ripoll in northern Catalonia, but there is no confirmation from police. Mohamed Houli Chemlal, who was born in the Spanish north African enclave of Melilla, also lives in the same town.

Two more people have since been arrested in Ripoll and at least three of those shot in Cambrils are from the town. Only one member of the cell remains at large. He is Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old from Ripoll who had studied at the secondary school there and was recalled by former classmates as being quiet and well-behaved. Abouyaaquob was at the wheel of the large White Fiat van that killed 13 people on Las Ramblas on Thursday.

The Alcanar house appears to have been destroyed by an accidental explosion. The first people to reach the site immediately detected the source of the explosion. Hissing gas bottles were filling the air with their fumes. Police recovered more than 100 gas bottles, each big enough to contain 12.5 kilos of pressurised butane, from the site, many of which remain intact. A truck full of such bottles attached to a bomb could have wreaked even more damage. Police believe the cell were preparing up to three such homemade “van bombs”.

The explosion forced the cell to change and rush their plans, in the belief that the police were on to them. In fact, police at first suspected the house had been used in the manufacture of illegal drugs, and that the explosion was an accident. Trapped gas caused a second explosion on Thursday afternoon, sending more rubble into neighbouring properties.

At about the same time as the second explosion, Abouyaaqoub was steering one of the two white Fiat vans that the cell had rented though Barcelona toward the short, broad Pelai street that leads to the top of Las Ramblas. He then turned right on to the pedestrian centre of the boulevard and accelerated. Five hundred yards later, the van came to a halt and Abouyaaqoub, wearing a striped T-shirt and white cap, ran into the narrow streets of the Raval neighbourhood. Behind him lay chaos and carnage.

The dead and the injured came from 22 countries and were of all religious beliefs. One unidentified British victim was still in hospital on Saturday, according to La Vanguardia newspaper. Several of the dead have yet to be named.

While panicked, screaming tourists sought refuge in bars, shops, hotels and restaurants, a manhunt through the nearby streets failed to find Abouyaaqoub. Roadblocks were set up, snarling up the traffic and filtering outgoing cars past the eyes of police. Among other vehicles, police were seeking a second white van from the Telefurgo company that had been rented at the same time as the one on Las Ramblas.

As night fell, Moussa was preparing a second attack with four others – mostly friends from Ripoll such as 24-year-old Mohamed Hychami and 18-year-old Said Aalla, who played in the local five-a-side soccer league. They no longer had explosives. But they had a blue Audi A3, and a collection of knives and axes. The attackers in Borough Market, Vauxhall and elsewhere had shown that this was enough.

The plan was to find another busy pedestrian walkway, run people down and then jump out of the car with weapons, hacking and stabbing people to death. Such crowds can be found in many of the tourist resorts along the Catalan coast. Like the Borough Market attackers, they built fake bomb vests with aluminium foil and set out to find a target.

The second onslaught in Cambrils was underway. The Audi A3 accelerated through a checkpoint, running over a policewoman’s foot in the process. After three kilometres the car was abandoned. To the surprise of police, it contained the body of a man who had been stabbed to death. The driver had disappeared.

By now, however, the other hired van had been found parked outside a Burger King in Vic, an hour’s drive from Barcelona. Documents showed that the van (or vans) had been rented by Driss Oukabir, whose photograph was immediately released. Twenty-seven-year-old Oukabir later walked through the doors of the police station in Ripoll, saying that his passport had been stolen. It was only now that police began to realise how young the attackers might be – Driss’s younger brother, Moussa, was just 17-years-old.

It is unclear why they chose Cambrils, a quiet resort where most people are tucked up in bed by 1am. But was when the car ran down some pedestrians and then rammed a police car at a checkpoint on the beach road. The reaction was swift and deadly.

Four were killed after they scrambled out of the overturned vehicle, reportedly by a single police officer. “One of them was shouting about Allah as he ran down the road,” said witness jose Ramon Arana, who watched from his second floor, seafront balcony. “You could hear the bullets zinging as they bounced off the pavement.”

A fifth terrorist – who on video appears to look like 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir – escaped but was later found on the seafront. “On the ground! On the ground!” police shouted, but, instead, he shouted back at them. He fell down after being shot, but then got up again and ran towards them. Further shots rang out, and he collapsed on to the asphalt road. Soon he, too, was dead.

As police identified the casualties, the Ripoll connection became clear. The first suspects to be identified – Oubakir, Aalla and Hychami – all came from this town. With 500 people of a total population of 10,500, of Moroccan origin, the suspects could not have gone unnoticed.

“Everyone, more or less, knows the Oubakir brothers,” said one neighbour. A rebellious Driss had been to jail when younger, but was considered to have mended his ways. Moussa had studied to become an administrative assistant at the local high school and was currently on a work training programme.

His family had tried to fit into this Catalan town, where the established community of north African immigrants mostly work on local farms. His Moroccan mother, who had attended Catalan classes as the family tried to assimilate the culture of the town, was reported to be distraught. “The family say it is better for him that he is dead,” the local Ara newspaper reported.

The two other arrested men are Said Aalla’s brother Mohammed Aallaa, 27, and 30-year-old Sahal el-Karib.

How these men came together to from a terror cell remains a mystery. None of those identified so far were known to have radical views. Nor had they been caught up in Spain’s procedure for tackling terror, which involves arresting suspects on slight evidence or minor crimes. Until now, no serious attack on Spanish soil had occurred since a dozen bombs were planted on Madrid commuter trains in 2004.

More than a quarter of arrests over the past five years have been in and around Barcelona, with 18 people arrested on suspicion of terrorism in Catalonia this year. Almost half a million Muslims make up Catalonia’s population of 7 million, but many young Muslims are frustrated at the inability to integrate.

The tucked away house in Alcanar, visible only to unsuspecting neighbours, must have seemed the perfect base. The news has forced many tourists in the cheap hostels lto leave or cancel their trips.

At the hostal Montecarlo, 100 metres away, a tray full of chunks of masonry rests on the bar counter. It blasted on to the terrace from the terrorist cell’s bomb factory on Wednesday night. It contains future clues about what the cell was planning.

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We were on Las Ramblas when terror hit. My family are lucky to be alive | Michele Hill | World news

I woke up this morning early. I normally don’t wake early. We set our alarm for 6:30 to get to the airport, as we’re flying home from Spain today. Today I don’t need an alarm because I have my own internal alarm: it went off sometime before 5pm yesterday and it’s still ringing. I check my husband and son are beside me: they are safe.

I get up to go the bathroom and the bruise on my thigh makes it slightly sore to walk. This is my war wound. A physical reminder of what happened yesterday in Barcelona. It’s about 4in long and 2in wide, bright purple and hard to touch. It’s quite unremarkable and a small price to pay. In some ways it’s a comfort. It reminds me that I am not crazy, that what happened yesterday was real. It is a temporary tattoo and will be gone very soon. I would imagine the emotional bruise will last a little longer.

My son thinks that a moving bench may have hit me. He is six years old and he said he saw it. My husband wonders if it was a postcard stand, or the man who was hit beside me. I’m pretty sure it was not the van or I wouldn’t be writing this. I most likely ran into a bench and find it strange that I don’t remember. I remember everything else.

We had just left the El Corte Inglés supermarket and agreed to a quick stroll on Las Ramblas before returning to our hotel. My husband doesn’t really like Las Ramblas, and we had not been on this trip, but what is a trip to Barcelona without a visit to Las Ramblas? So, laden with our shopping, we agreed to grab an ice cream, soak up the ambience and go back to our hotel.

We were wandering slowly with the crowds when we heard the shots. Two loud claps, and then chaos. My husband shouted “run!” and we started to move.

It was over in seconds. Surprisingly for me, I learned that there is enough time in such moments to register that something is very serious. I knew they were terrorists. The crowds split, with people running to the sides at lightning speeds. But what were they running from?

Michele Hill and her family

Michele Hill and her family Photograph: Michele Hill

I thought I would throw myself on my son in an effort to protect him. I am weirdly proud of this moment as I have always thought of myself as rather selfish, and can honestly now say that my priority was him.

I turned to my right, saw my husband’s expression of horror first, and then the van. It was at most 10ft away and coming right at us. The screen was cracked with a bullet hole. My son says that his ankle is twisted and that it is my fault. I’m sure he is right. I am not ashamed of this. I’m just surprised his arm is still attached to his shoulder given how hard I yanked it.

I close my eyes. We are not hit. My husband said it mounted the pavement on two wheels and just missed us. The driver evidently did not want to hit the newsstand behind us.

We crouched for a few seconds behind the stand, realised we were unharmed and checked on a nearby injured man. We did not hang around. We had no idea what else might happen. Before we knew it we were in a nearby restaurant where the manager boarded up the premises. It is amazing how fast news travels when you are removed from the situation, but how slow it is when you are there. I must have spent 20 minutes Googling “Barcelona attacks”, “Las Ramblas terror” etc while my search yielded stories from two years ago. Was this Islamic State? I thought so. Were there many injured and dead? Probably. But it would be a while before we knew for sure.

We texted home, our batteries died and we waited. Four hours later, armed forces released us one by one with our arms over our heads. The rational part of my brain told me that they were there to protect us but the instinctive part was not so sure. They were dressed for raids, with heavy machine guns and shouting in a language I do not speak.

We were escorted in groups of 20 to the Plaça de Catalunya and briefly questioned. The officer wrote “nada” beside our names. This referred to how helpful we would be in relation to capturing the suspect, but it did not feel like “nada” to us.

It is strange watching the news. I keep looking for us or the man right beside us who got hit. The footage does not capture what we saw and many of those interviewed were much further away.

I am a psychiatrist and am wondering about post-traumatic stress disorder. The incident certainly qualifies. Five years ago I battled stage four cancer, so I’ve some experience with trauma and I get in touch with my mortality more often than most people my age. I sometimes think it makes me a better psychiatrist. This might just be my way of coming to terms with a very difficult time in my life. I’m wondering what I will tell myself about yesterday. I was less scared going through it but may be more after it. I think that I am fine today, and then jump out of my skin when I hear an announcement or see someone running to catch a flight. My son seemed OK but asked me why there were still sirens when we were in the hotel restaurant. Out of the blue, he said to both of us that he wished he had waited until he was 10 to come to Barcelona because then he would have been braver when the crazy man drove at us with the van. We both nearly cried.

I am in the airport now and in a long queue to get home. I cannot wait. When we get home our lives will return to normal. Our son will go back to school and we will go back to work. Most importantly, we will be safe. We will no doubt carry some effects but will mostly hold onto how lucky we are and how precious life is. My bruise will be gone long before the injuries of others who were there. While we will have difficult memories to process, we will thankfully not have to process loss.

I vow to hug my family tightly and tell them how much I love them. When I pray or meditate, which I need to do more often, I will now be thankful for my safety, in addition to my health and happiness.

We know we are lucky. We can move on. But what about the families in states riven by terrorism? This must be their daily struggle. I need to do more to help. We all do.

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