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Barcelona attack

25 August 2017

MORE terrorist outrages, more incomprehension about what might possibly prompt a group of young men to treat innocent people as if they were digital figures in a violent computer game. Younes Abouyaaquob, who was killed while attempting to evade police on Monday, injured 130 people and killed 13 by driving at speed along a crowded Barcelona street on Thursday of last week. He then stabbed and killed another person to take his car. Five members of the same terrorist group knocked down and killed a woman and injured six others in another town. But for the terrorists’ clumsiness, it appears that far more could have died.

One of the suspects injured when a house exploded the day before the Barcelona attack stated in court on Tuesday that the explosives that were accidentally detonated had been intended for high-profile targets, among them the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. One of those killed in the explosion was Abdelbaki Es Satty, believed to have masterminded the attacks. He was an imam from the small town of Ripoll, north of Barcelona, where most of the suspects lived. Although of North African origin, they appeared fully integrated in the small Catalan community. “There’s no ghetto here,” the secretary of security in the town’s government, Dolores Vilalta, said. “They were our neighbours.”

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the would-be neighbours neglected to help the injured man; but none of them caused his injuries. This is why the current spate of terrorist acts is so shocking. The people of Catalonia are now saying to themselves: “These people knew us, and yet they still attacked us.” The unfathomable nature of the crimes will put great strain on relations with Spain’s two million Muslims. The more that emerges about the normal upbringing of the attackers — they played football, they liked cycling, and there were no problems at school — the harder it will be for young Muslim men in general to convince the public of their innocence. Four of the group have been captured alive. Their testimony will be important as governments attempt to understand and isolate the forces that warp some people’s view of the world and their neighbours.


A silent tower

ON TUESDAY, hundreds of people stood in Parliament Square at noon to hear the last chimes of Big Ben, more correctly known as the Great Bell, which will be silenced during the four-year renovation of the Elizabeth Tower, except on one or two occasions such as Remembrance and New Year. It was a moment to savour: a public expression of affection for a bell. Most churches’ bells are well loved, but the struggle to find ringers gets a little harder each year. Things must improve, or silences longer than four years will become common.

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