Terror in Barcelona as van targets tourists

Fear: Barcelona is a popular tourist city, attracting nine million visitors in 2016. © Getty

At least 13 people have been killed and 80 were injured by a van that ploughed into a busy tourist area of Barcelona. Using vehicles for terrorism is increasingly common. Can it be stopped?

Aamer Anwar is a well-known lawyer and academic. Yesterday, as he was walking towards Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s most popular streets, he heard a sudden crash.

“I turned around and people were screaming,” he told The Guardian later. “I could see a woman screaming with her kids. People started running and jumping into shops.” He began to run, and the police quickly arrived on the scene. He spoke to a local shopkeeper, who told him what had happened: a van had driven straight into a crowd.

Soon, authorities in Barcelona confirmed that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack. The van had driven down Las Ramblas targeting crowds of people. Many fled to safety — but at least 13 were killed and many more injured. Eventually, the van hit a newspaper kiosk and came to a halt.

Two people have been arrested for the attack, but the driver is still on the run.

Hours later, police stopped a second attack in the coastal town of Cambrils, where several people were injured. There are also investigations into whether an explosion in the small town of Tarragona could be related.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility, but the extent of its involvement is unknown.

World leaders sent words of support to the victims and the people of Barcelona. The King of Spain, Felipe VI, tweeted, “All of Spain is Barcelona. Las Ramblas will be for everyone once again.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK “stands with Spain against terror.” US President Donald Trump said the USA will do “whatever is necessary to help”.

But for many observers, it is difficult to know what can be done. Using a car, van or lorry to kill and spread fear is an increasingly common form of terrorism. A woman was killed by a far-right terrorist driving a van in Charlottesville just last weekend. London saw three vehicular terror attacks in three months this year. They have happened in Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and Nice.

Can anything be done to stop people driving into others out of hatred?

Hard choices

Yes, say some. Governments should pedestrianise city centres, particularly in capitals and other common tourist destinations. Where roads are essential, they should erect heavy bollards which are designed to protect pedestrians. That way, vehicles simply will not be able to reach the kind of crowds seen in Barcelona yesterday.

This will not work, say others. Cars do not kill people — terrorists do. Governments cannot completely redesign cities because a few evil men have used their cars as weapons. If they do, those people will simply find another way to cause carnage. We must try to understand why people are drawn to terrorism in the first place, and tackle the problem at its root cause.

You Decide

  1. How worried are you about the spread of vehicular terror attacks?
  2. Should cities stop cars from driving in busy tourist areas, in order to keep people safe?

Activities

  1. Write down three things that you would like to say to the residents of Barcelona today.
  2. Write a paragraph explaining why you think people are driven to terrorism.

Some People Say...

“How do you defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized.”

Salman Rushdie

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Yesterday afternoon, a white van drove down a busy pedestrian area of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. So far 13 people have been confirmed dead, and many more are injured. Two men have been arrested, but Spanish police say that neither are the driver of the van. Last night the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said it was a “jihadist attack”.
What do we not know?
Who was driving the van, where that person is now, or why they did it. Vehicle-ramming is an increasingly common form of terrorism, as it is relatively easy to hire a car or van and then drive it into crowds of people. Although it is likely that this attack was inspired by Islamic extremism, we do not know whether Islamic State was directly involved.

Word Watch

Second attack
Six people and one police officer were injured when they were hit by a car in Cambrils. Five suspects — who were wearing fake explosive belts — were then shot and killed by police.
Explosion
This was initially thought to be a gas explosion, police now think they may be linked. One person died and several were injured in the explosion.
Increasingly common
Islamic State has repeatedly told its followers to use vehicles as weapons. Although ramming into pedestrians with vehicles is a relatively recent form of terrorism, the ease with which it can be carried out has helped it to spread.
Charlottesville
Heather Heyer was protesting against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when she was killed in a van attack on Saturday. The suspect was spotted at the rally earlier in the day. The incident has been described as “domestic terrorism” by the FBI director.
London
On March 22nd four people were killed on Westminster Bridge. On June 3rd eight people died in an attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. On June 19th one man was killed in Finsbury Park.

Subjects

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