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2 Arrested in Morocco over Barcelona Attack as Suspects’ Trial Kicks off

2 Arrested in Morocco over Barcelona Attack as Suspects’ Trial Kicks off

Wednesday, 23 August, 2017 - 08:00
Spanish Civil Guards escort one of the four suspects of a militant cell behind last week’s Barcelona van attack. (Reuters)

Two people were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of being linked to last week’s deadly van-ramming attack in the Spanish city of Barcelona, said Moroccan state TV channel 2M on Tuesday.


One of the men, a 28-year-old detained in the Nador, close to the Spanish enclave of Melilla, lived for 12 years in Barcelona and is suspected of links to ISIS and of plotting to attack the Spanish embassy in Rabat, the channel reported. It gave no details of the alleged plot.


No direct link has been identified between the suspect and the cell of mainly young Moroccans behind the Barcelona attack, but he had celebrated the attack on Facebook, the report said.


A second suspect was arrested in the town of Oujda, close to Morocco's border with Algeria, 2M reported. He was a resident of Ripoll, the small town in northeastern Spain where many members of the cell were living.


The militant cell behind the van-ramming that killed 13 people in Barcelona had planned one or several major bomb attacks, possibly against churches or monuments, one suspect told a court on Tuesday, according to sources close to the investigation.


After a day-long hearing of four suspects in the plot, Judge Fernando Andreu late on Tuesday ordered Mohamed Houli Chemlal and a second defendant, Driss Oukabir, remanded on charges of membership of a terrorist group and murder. Chemlal was also charged with explosives possession.


A third suspect, Salh El Karib, who ran an internet cafe in a northeastern Spanish town where most of the alleged members of the cell lived, will remain in police custody for now pending further investigation. The fourth man, Mohamed Aalla, was released on certain conditions.


Chemlal was the only one of the four suspects who admitted a role in the plot, the sources said. The other three all denied involvement.


Police said the cleric suspected of leading the militant cell, Abdelbaki Es Satty, died a day before the Barcelona attack when a house the group was using to build bombs blew up.


According to Judge Andreu's court order, in the ruins of the house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, police found several plane tickets to Brussels in Es Satty's name issued by the Spanish airline Vueling.


The air tickets will raise questions about possible links of the group to Belgium, where a number of militant plots have been hatched or carried out.


Investigators also found receipts for purchases made by the group, including 500 liters of acetone and other materials which can be used to make explosives, bought at the beginning of August, the court document showed.


Last Thursday at 9:26 p.m. local time (1926 GMT), a few hours after the Barcelona van attack, they bought four knives and an ax that were used in the Cambrils attack, it said.


Chemlal told the court in the closed hearing that the group had obtained materials for making explosives in Spain, abroad and via the internet, the sources said.


Chemlal, who told the court he regretted his part in the plot, said Es Satty, the imam in Ripoll, the small town in northeastern Spain where many of the group came from, led the cell, according to the sources.


The group had planned to commit "one or several" attacks with explosives, Chemlal said. He said there was no "clear or certain target" but he referred to attacks against churches and monuments, the sources said.


The cell was making explosives and planned to use butane gas canisters to make a more powerful bomb, guided by tutorials found on the internet, Chemlal said.


The plan went wrong when an explosion wrecked the house where the plotters were making the bombs a day before the Barcelona attack, killing the cleric and another man and leading the survivors to hurriedly change tactics.


Tuesday's hearing was the first in a long legal process, and it could be months or even years before the case is brought to a full trial.


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