Barcelona Attack Suspects Had Ties to Imam Linked to ISIS

The young men all knew one another — to varying degrees — and most had attended the same middle school and high school.


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As was the case in previous attacks linked to the Islamic State, the conspirators in this plot covered their tracks by meeting in different places and using a low-profile location as a bomb-making center.

Setting up as squatters in a vacant house in Alcanar, a working-class holiday town about 186 miles away, they created a makeshift explosives factory. In plain sight of neighbors who suspected no wrongdoing, they gradually collected more than 100 cylinders of butane gas, the police said, in an effort to intensify the damage that would be done by the car bomb they were making.

It was to be detonated using triacetone triperoxide — a volatile and unstable substance, known as TATP, that was also used in the Paris and Brussels attacks. The accidental explosion on Wednesday suggests that assembling the bomb was beyond their skills.

After the group’s safe house blew up — killing its leader and two others — those who were still alive appear to have had no clear backup plan.

The Terror Suspects

Police in Spain say 12 men were part of the terror cell that attacked Barcelona and Cambrils.






Brothers

Name

Younes Abouyaaqoub

Houssain Abouyaaqoub

Omar Hychami

Mohamed Hychami

Driss Oukabir

Moussa Oukabir

Said Aalla

Mohammed Aalla

Youssef Aalla

Sahal el Karib

Mohamed Houli Chemlal

Abdelbaki Essati

Approx. age

22

19

21

24

27

17

18

27

unknown

34

20

45

Status

Unknown

Dead

Dead

Dead

Detained

Dead

Dead

Detained

Unknown

Detained

Detained

Unknown

Brothers

Name

Younes Abouyaaqoub

Houssain Abouyaaqoub

Omar Hychami

Mohamed Hychami

Driss Oukabir

Moussa Oukabir

Said Aalla

Mohammed Aalla

Youssef Aalla

Sahal el Karib

Mohamed Houli Chemlal

Abdelbaki Essati

Approx. age

22

19

21

24

27

17

18

27

unknown

34

20

45

Status

Unknown.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Detained.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Detained.

Unknown.

Detained.

Detained in Alcanar.

Unknown.

Brothers

Name

Younes Abouyaaqoub

Houssain Abouyaaqoub

Omar Hychami

Mohamed Hychami

Driss Oukabir

Moussa Oukabir

Said Aalla

Mohammed Aalla

Youssef Aalla

Sahal el Karib

Mohamed Houli Chemlal

Abdelbaki Essati

Approx. age

22

19

21

24

27

17

18

27

unknown

34

20

45

Status

Unknown

Dead

Dead

Dead

Detained

Dead

Dead

Detained

Unknown

Detained

Detained

Unknown

 

Suspected of being driver in Barcelona van attack.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Identity documents used in van rental.

Killed in Cambrils.

Killed in Cambrils.

Owner of car used in Cambrils attack.

Possibly killed in Alcanar explosion.

 

Injured in Alcanar house explosion

Imam. May have died in Alcanar explosion.






First they carried out the plot to run a vehicle into crowds on Las Ramblas, but after that they seemed adrift. Five of them piled into one car and late on the night of the Barcelona attack tangled with the police in Cambrils, a seaside town, as they tried to run over more people. All were killed by the police in a shootout.

Unlike the attackers in Paris and Brussels or in Nice or London, these young men were from well integrated Spanish-Moroccan families. None had previous links to terrorism or were on watch lists, the police said, and most either had jobs or were still in school. Only a couple of them appeared to have had minor brushes with the law — for marijuana use.

“When there is an attack like this, we then always focus on certain districts or banlieues,” Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Catalonia, told a news conference on Sunday. That was pointless here, he protested.

“We have about 200,000 Moroccans in Catalonia who contribute to the normality of this country, who pray, work and take part in our collective life, and as such it is very unfair to try to present a community that has an important proportion of Muslims as a hot spot of radicalization.”

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Few of the young men appear to have been drawn to religion. Several partied and readily smoked joints, according to friends. The one set of brothers whom friends describe as more involved religiously were the Abouyaaqoubs.

A close childhood friend of Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, 19, described him as becoming more religious in the last year, but he also went to the gym regularly, taught rock climbing and, like a couple of the others, spoke fluent Catalan.

“Younes, his brother, was always more religious,” said the friend, who asked not to be identified because he was afraid to have his name published in the current climate. “Houssaine would go often to that mosque, but not every day or every week. But in the last months he went more often than before.”

Another friend described Houssaine as changing abruptly, and suddenly starting to talk only about “religion, religion, religion.”

The change, he said, came after Houssaine went on a trip with the imam to Tarragona, for about two weeks, a month ago.

“It happened very fast,” he said.

Another suspect, Mohammed Aalla, 27, worked as a waiter in a mountaintop restaurant in the hamlet of Ventola, where he served wine and alcohol along with the other waiters, his employer said.

Interactive Feature: Victims of the Terrorist Attacks in Spain


The police believe he was involved along with his brothers, Said, 18, and Youssef, 22.

The youngest participant was Moussa Oukabir, 17, who went to the mosque only a couple of times, said the head of the association that runs the local mosque where Mr. Essati most recently served as imam. A slender boy with a shy expressions in photographs, Moussa impressed others with what one neighbor said was “perfect Catalan.”

Friends and neighbors said that Moussa liked to swim, ride his bike and hang out near the river that runs through the town.

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His sisters boasted to their employer at Les Graelles, a local restaurant, that he had received high marks in school. “The little brother was a 10 kid, a great kid,” said Rosa, the restaurant’s manager.

Yet about two months before the attack, friends said, Moussa Oukabir bought a plane ticket to Morocco from a local phone and internet store that also sells cheap flights. It is not clear when he went or how long he stayed.

His brother, Driss, 27 or 28, had some scrapes with the law for selling marijuana.

He walked into the police station in Ripoll after his identity documents were used to rent the white Fiat van that ran over people on Las Ramblas and the papers were discovered inside. Driss Oukabir said that the documents had been stolen and that he had come in to report the theft.

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