SUSPECTS behind the Barcelona terrorist attack have said that they had planned a much larger atrocity, targeting the city’s world-famous Sagrada Família church.
Spanish media has reported that Mohamed Houli Chemlal, one of the four men arrested by police in connection with the attacks, admitted during a court hearing that the group wanted to bomb the Sagrada Família, the large unfinished basilica that welcomes millions of tourists each year, as well as other popular sites across Barcelona.
The plan for a bombing campaign was abandoned after most of the cell’s explosives were detonated by accident in a house in Alcanar, a small coastal town about 125 miles south of Barcelona.
For several days, police tracked Younes Abouyaaqoub, who was believed to be the driver of the van that ploughed through crowds of pedestrians on Las Ramblas last week, killing 13 and injuring more than 100 others.
He was finally tracked down by police on Monday afternoon in the Subirats district, 30 miles to the west of Barcelona. He was shot dead by officers after he showed them he was wearing what appeared to be a suicide belt.
Five other members of the terrorist cell were shot and killed after they launched a second vehicle attack in the town of Cambrils, which lies between Alcanar and Barcelona.
ABACA/PAMorning after: flowers are laid at the scene of the Barcelona attackOne woman was killed in this second attack. The final two members of the cell, including the imam believed to have radicalised the others, were killed in the explosion in Alcanar.
The King of Spain, Felipe VI, joined the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the RC Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Joan José Omella, for a mass at Sagrada Familia on Sunday. The families of some of those killed and injured on Las Ramblas, as well as representatives from Barcelona’s Muslim community, also attended.
During another mass at Valencia Cathedral, the Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, warned against any anti-Muslim backlash or “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.”
Priests, bishops, and archbishops have also been responding to the attacks, which have been claimed by the Islamic State group.
The Chaplain of St George’s, Barcelona, the Revd John Chapman, wrote to friends in the church community on Friday morning, thanking them for their prayers in the wake of the attacks.
“There have been a number of such attacks in different countries in the past year. There are those who want to create a culture of fear. This we must resist.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: “Full of sorrow for those affected by the attack in Barcelona, Christ give eternal light and peace and hope to the bereaved and injured.”
PAMemorials: King Felipe and Queen Letizia look over flowers left at the site of the van attackPope Francis has sent a telegram to the Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Juan José Omella, expressing his “deepest sympathy” to the victims and families, and condemning “blind violence” and hatred.
The Bishop of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Carlos López-Lozano, has thanked churches across the Anglican Communion that sent messages of support and solidarity.
“We are touched by the love and support we have already received throughout the entire Anglican Communion and other churches that join us in prayer at the hour of our need,” he said in a statement. His Church was praying for the victims, their families, and the police, but also for God to “transform the hearts” of the terrorists and those who back their ideology.
The Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, said that the diocese was “shocked and increasingly alarmed at what appears to be now a series of deadly copycat attacks” in its most vibrant cities.
“The very presence of a caring Christian community, standing together at this time of fear and uncertainty, I hope will be a blessing to those who seek strength and the assurance of Christ’s love and in these most troubled times.”
One group also attempting to bring a ministry of presence are emergency chaplains sent to Barcelona by the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (News, 19 August 2016).
Jeff Naber, one of the team of eight chaplains, said that they had arrived on Friday morning and spent 12 hours a day since speaking to people on the streets and praying with those suffering.
“A lot of people here are going through suffering and grief. When we first arrived, people were in shock and denial; and now we are seeing some people angry that this happened, and others are very emotional now. They are letting their feelings come out.”
reutersNot all the same: Muslims in Ripoli, the town from which most of the terrorists came, gathered outside the town hall on Tuesday to dissociate themselves from the outrages and offer support for the victimsAll along Las Ramblas, impromptu memorials of piles of flowers and candles and cards had sprung up in memory of those who had died, Mr Naber reported. He had noticed that many of those walking around central Barcelona were still in a heightened state of anxiety, jumping at every noise from a nearby building site.
“I have been in Europe over six times within the last year, working with local churches and communities to bring about emotional and spiritual care.
“Right now I’m looking at a young lady and she is standing at a memorial site just sobbing. If I wasn’t on the phone with you. . . She is in need of prayer and that ministry of presence.”
The chaplains have also been trying to work with churches in Barcelona, and were calling on all Christians in the city to join them for four nights of prayer at Las Ramblas, to claim for Christ an area that had seen so much suffering in the name of religion.
Security guidance for churches issued
IN THE wake of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and elsewhere across Europe in recent months, Nick Tolson, a leading expert in church security, has issued his latest guidelines on how to keep your place of worship safe.
Many churches and cathedrals are located in the heart of major city centres which have borne the brunt of recent terrorist activity, but since the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel in Rouen last year (News, 29 July 2016), churches must also reckon with the fact they could be direct targets of terrorism as well, the guidelines warn.
Larger churches and cathedrals in particular should have a security plan, a member of staff responsible for securing the building, and regular training for all employees and volunteers.
Common but unhelpful measures such as installing CCTV or introducing universal bag searches for all visitors are largely a distraction from cheaper and more effective tactics, Mr Tolson said.
Churches should focus on keeping any incidents outside the building by having a single entrance and exit which can be quickly locked. The entry area should be staffed by someone trained to spot potential threats, the guidelines recommend.
It is also worth considering issuing staff with radios or personal attack alarms. While most of the advice can be implemented without great cost, Mr Tolson said that it was necessary to set aside a proportion of each year’s budget to implement and maintain security.