Juan Pablo Garnham is the Urban Affairs reporter for The Texas Tribune. Previously, he was the editor of CityLab Latino, senior producer of the podcast In the Thick and he has also worked for El Diario and NY1 Noticias, in New York. In his home country of Chile, he worked as a reporter for Qué Pasa magazine and El Mercurio newspaper.
The driver targeted the city’s pedestrian heart in the incident, which killed 14 people and injured many more.
At least 14 people have been killed and 100 or more are injured in what police and the Spanish media are describing as a terrorist attack in Barcelona’s main pedestrian street Thursday afternoon. The incident is now believed to have been linked to two others in towns south of Barcelona.
According to La Vanguardia, around 5 p.m. a white van rammed through the central area of Las Ramblas, the historic pedestrian district, finally crashing into a newsstand, leaving a trail of injured people.
Authorities say the attack seems to be linked to two other incidents: An explosion at a house in Alcanar, and a potential thwarted attack by a group of five suspects wearing fake suicide belts in Cambrils. Police killed the five individuals in Cambrils, and arrested several others believed to be involved.
We work with the hypothesis that the incident of #Cambrils respond to a terrorist attack. We have shot down the perpetrators— Mossos (@mossos) August 18, 2017
Las Ramblas is the heart of the touristic life of Barcelona: A diagonal street that crosses the grid of the city’s center, it connects some of the milestones of the city, starting in the Placa de Catalunya—a main square and transportation hub—and ending in the Columbus monument next to the Mediterranean coast. Tourists and locals use it to stroll to places like La Boquería, the famous food market of Barcelona; El Liceu, the opera house; and the Palace Güell, one architect Antoni Gaudí’s major works.
Witnesses describe seeing the van weaving through crowds at high speeds in the center of Las Ramblas before crashing into a newsstand near La Boquería.
Thursday’s violence echoes recent incidents in London, New York, and Charlottesville, in which drivers used vehicles as weapons in targeting spaces that are built to attract pedestrians. Barcelona is renowned as a beacon of walking-friendly street design. In an effort to control pollution and restore access to public space, Colau has been implementing a plan of car-free “superblocks,” areas where only service vehicles are permitted, diverting vehicle traffic to surrounding streets and allowing pedestrians and cyclists to predominate.
Las Ramblas, which has been a magnet for strollers for more than two centuries and boasts a pavement mosaic designed by Joan Miro, is adjacent to some of the first superblocks. Other world cities have expressed admiration and interest in emulating the Barcelona traffic plan.
We will continue to update this post with additional information.