When an explosion ripped through a house in the small southern Catalonian town of Alcanar in the early hours of Thursday, police and firefighters initially assumed there was an innocent explanation. All that remained of the building when they arrived was a heap of smouldering rubble. Several neighboring buildings had also been badly damaged by the blast, which could be heard from miles away. Picking carefully through the debris they found the body of a woman, a severely injured man and the remains of around 20 butane and propane gas bottles. Police thought that this meant is was a drugs factory of some kind. The cause of the explosion seemed clear enough: it was the result of an accidental gas leak.
Twenty-four hours later, with 19 more people dead – five of them terrorists – more than 130 people injured, four suspects in custody and scenes of carnage at two popular tourist attractions, Spanish authorities realised the blast at Alcanar was the first sign that a terrorist cell was active in the country. By late Friday, investigators had concluded that the cell’s initial plan was to pack a large truck with a gas bottle bomb and use it to cause a huge explosion in a busy area. Unable to obtain a truck, plan B appeared to be to build two smaller devices and place them in the back of two hired vans. But when the bomb-making venture ended with the blast at Alcanar – presumably when the bombmaker accidentally detonated the device – members of the cell fell back on plan C: driving into crowds of people, first in Barcelona and then in the town of Cambrils.
Like other European countries, Spain has been the target of a number of terrorist plots inspired by Islamic State. Until this week, all have been foiled. Seven weeks ago, Spanish police said they had identified and detained an Isis cell on the resort island of Mallorca. Few people are thought to have travelled from Spain to join Isis in Syria or Iraq – probably fewer than 100, according to some estimates – and no Spanish citizens are thought to hold leadership positions in the organization.
Source: The Guardian