Mr. Essati died on Aug. 16, shortly before the attacks, when the explosives he was manufacturing with the help of some of his young recruits blew up in their safe house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona.
In the rubble, the police found more than 100 gas cylinders. That accidental explosion forced the surviving members of the terrorist cell to abandon their plot for a large-scale bombing. Instead, they used vehicles to kill people in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, as well as in Cambrils, a Catalan seaside resort.
The disclosure of CNI’s links to Mr. Essati came amid a political crisis punctuated by an independence referendum in Catalonia, the dissolution of the region’s government by Madrid and the arrest of several of the separatist leaders.
Regional elections have been scheduled for next month in Catalonia, and Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, hopes that the vote will deal a decisive blow to the independence movement and end a period of direct rule of the region by Madrid.
On Oct. 27, Mr. Rajoy’s government took full administrative control of Catalonia, using emergency constitutional powers, shortly after separatist lawmakers in the Catalan Parliament voted for independence from Spain based on the outcome of the referendum, which had been declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.
Mr. Essati was in prison on charges linked to drug trafficking between 2010 and 2014, when he was released from a penitentiary in eastern Spain. He then became the imam of a mosque in Ripoll, a Catalan town that was home to Younes Abouyaaqoub, who drove the van used in the Barcelona assault, and other members of a terrorist cell that planned the attacks.
Mr. Abouyaaqoub was killed by the police following a manhunt. Other suspected members of the terrorist cell are in jail awaiting a trial.
Mr. Essati is believed to have been the organizer of the cell, whose members included some teenagers and were mostly of Moroccan origin. He had ties with extremists that extended back more than a decade, and shared an apartment in the town of Vilanova that was raided by the police in 2006, as part of an investigation into another cell that recruited Islamic fighters for Iraq.
In the aftermath of the attacks, politicians and police officials in Madrid and Barcelona traded accusations over why the intelligence services had failed to detect Mr. Essati’s cell. He and some other members of the cell occupied the house in Alcanar for several months before the attacks, assembling a stockpile of bomb-making equipment.
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