Catalan investigators have raided the house of an imam in search of possible links to the twin terrorist attacks in the Spanish city of Barcelona and a nearby coastal town of Cambrils, which left 14 dead and over 100 injured.
Early Saturday morning, police in the town of Ripoll raided the home of the local Muslim cleric, who authorities believe might have served as the spiritual leader of the terrorist cell involved in the dual attacks on Thursday and Friday.
Officers were reportedly seeking to find DNA samples of the cleric, identified as Abdelbaki Es Satty, which might link him to the terrorist hideout in Alcanar, where an explosion destroyed a house on Wednesday.
The Alcanar house reportedly served as the base from which the terrorists were preparing their attacks. The imam went missing several days ago and was last seen Tuesday, Reuters reported citing Es Satty’s landlord.
Investigators believe he might be one of the two dead persons discovered in the rubble of the house in Alcanar.
Authorities did not find the imam in the small apartment. One of the rooms, reports say, was sublet to a Moroccan. In the living room, police discovered a mattress with the sheets on the floor, a five-seater corner sofa and a TV, El Pais reports.
Es Satty has been a practicing imam in Ripoll since 2015 and taught Arabic classes to young children of the congregation. He is believed to be the religious mentor of several of the identified terrorists who lived in the same town, namely: brothers Driss and Moussa Oukabirm as well as Mohammed Hychami and Younes Abouyaaqoub, who is considered the mastermind of the Barcelona attack and currently on the run.
Satty could have also influenced Said Aallaa, another terrorist cell member, who came from the town of Ribes de Freser, 13 kilometers from Ripoll.
The Ripoll imam was allegedly imprisoned at Castellón jail between 2010 and 2012 for drug-related offenses, according to anti-terrorist sources cited by El Confidencial. Neighbors of the cleric, however, note his humble behavior and his ability not to stand out from the crowd.
Authorities believe the two attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils are directly linked to Wednesday night’s explosion in Alcanar where police discovered a stockpile of explosive material, including traces of triacetate triperoxide (TATP). The terrorists apparently planned to use the hideout to produce the highly unstable and jihadist-approved explosive, dubbed the “Mother of Satan,” El Pais reported.
The terrorists originally planned a much bigger attack, allegedly eyeing Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona as one of its potential targets, El Espanol reported. The publication added, that the cell planned to use three hired vans loaded with explosives to carry out the atrocities.
Investigators believe that an accidental explosion in Alcanar prevented the suspects from carrying out their plot which was planned for months in advance.
“They were preparing one or several attacks in Barcelona and an explosion in Alcanar stopped this as they no longer had the material they needed to commit attacks of an even bigger scope,” the head of Catalonia’s police, Josep Lluis Trapero, noted earlier.
On Thursday, a man plowed a van into pedestrians on a popular tourist street in Barcelona, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 others. Hours later, terrorists launched a second attack in the seaside town of Cambrils, injuring seven people, one of whom later died.
Police killed and identified five terrorist cell members and detained four suspects believed to be behind the attacks. At least one remains at large. Spanish media have suggested that authorities are searching for 22-year-old Moroccan national Younes Abouyaaqoub – believed to be the mastermind of the double attacks.