2018-03-12 20:44:30 UTC
that the terrorist cell that had carried out attacks in
Barcelona and a nearby seaside village has been completely
dismantled. But in the mountain town where the conspiracy was
born, people wanted to know how it all had started.
At the center of the mystery here: How did a dozen young men
from a small town some friends since childhood come together
to plot in secret and carry out the deadliest terrorist attack
in Spain in more than a decade, considering some were barely old
enough to drive and most still lived with their parents.
As many as eight of 12 young men named as suspects in the
terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils are first- and
second-generation Moroccan immigrants from the picturesque town
of Ripoll, perched high in the forests at the edge of the
Pyrenees, a two-hour drive on the highway from Barcelona.
Parents of the young men here told The Washington Post they fear
their sons were radicalized by a visiting cleric who spent the
last months praying, preaching and possibly brainwashing
gullible youngsters who spoke better Spanish than Arabic.
Others were not sure what drove the young men to such extreme
violence. One assailant drove a white rented van down a crowded
pedestrian boulevard in Barcelona, killing 14 and seriously
wounding scores. Five others attacked police and bystanders
after running a checkpoint. Two other suspects, still
unidentified, were blown up in an explosion at a house being
used by the cell to make a bomb, which authorities say was to be
deployed in a major attack.
Spanish authorities said Saturday that they are searching for
Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan-born man from Ripoll,
who they now believe drove the van.
As of Saturday night, some of the families with sons in the
terror cell said they had not been definitely informed by
authorities if, how or where they died.
Some questioned how the young men could have organized
themselves. Who is behind all this? Who is the big fish? said
Rashid Oukabir, a cousin of 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, a member
of the cell who was killed by police after their car rammed
Its impossible these kids did all of this on their own, he
said. Who helped them?
Local Moroccan immigrants drinking tea and watching cable news
at the Cafe Esperanza wondered aloud how the youths could have
turned so quickly toward violence.
They were nerds, said one man who knew them.
They werent all nerds, said another.
One was a skilled soccer player.
Another might have smoked hash.
Ibrahim Aallaa is the father of two young men implicated in the
attacks: Said Aallaa, 18, and his brother, Youssef Aallaa, 22.
He said he assumed both were dead.
A third son, Mohammad, 27, was the registered owner of the Audi
A3 used in the Cambrils attack. He is in police custody, his
Aallaa told The Post that he believed Youssef may have been
radicalized by an imam in Ripoll, where a generation ago the
first Moroccans came to work in the forests cutting trees or in
the fields harvesting crops.
Aallaa said he did not know the clerics name.
[Van plows into crowd in Barcelona, killing 13; second, related
attempt is thwarted]
In Ripoll on Saturday, national Catalan police searched the
abandoned apartment of a part-time Muslim preacher named
Abdelbaki Essati, who had served in a local mosque.
According to the Spanish newspaper El País, police were looking
for DNA samples from the apartment because they suspected that
Essati might have been one of the two men killed in Wednesdays
Albert Oliva, a regional police official, declined to provide
details on the cleric during a news conference Saturday.
The elder Aallaa said that his son Youssef had changed in recent
months, that he had become more strict in his religious practice
and more judgmental.
My son would tell me, Father, you have to pray. You have to
Youssef, he said, was a problematic child. The boy was
aggressive. He fought in school, Aallaa recalled.
He opened the door to his tiny room, where he slept on a
mattress next to his brother Said. There were religious texts
and some free weights for bodybuilding and that was it.
Recently, Youssef would disappear for days at a time, his father
said, adding that he last saw his son a month ago. He thought he
was working in a nearby town.
He suspects that Youssef got his brother Said involved in the
attack, the father said.
I never heard them speak of the Islamic State or Syria, he
said. Not anything like that, ever.
Hafida Oukabir said she saw her younger brother Moussa hours
before the Barcelona attack. She did not notice anything new or
different. If he had undergone some dramatic change, it was
hidden from her, she said.
My brother didnt change, Hafida insisted.
Moussa Oukabir went to Friday services at the mosque but did not
pray every day. In the days before the attacks, he was
laughing, going out. If I would have seen any changes or had the
suspicion of anything, we would have gone to the authorities.
But nothing pointed at this.
Hafida said the tightknit Moroccan community, especially the
families, are now focusing on who may have radicalized the
What I think happened is that someone must have brainwashed
them, she said. Do you really believe a 17- or 18-year-old,
who was born here and grew up here, would think about killing
people? No, no somebody must have played with their minds and
[In Barcelona, five minutes of pure panic and absolute
The Islamic State had earlier claimed that its soldiers
carried out the attacks in Spain, but the level of involvement
by the terrorist group remained unclear.
Aallaa said that his son Youssef had books he kept hidden that
he would study with friends. When police raided the home, they
took away old mobile phones and a laptop.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, as news broke that
Moroccan immigrants from Ripoll were responsible, many in town
swore that relations between the Muslim newcomers and the
established Catholic residents were calm and respectful.
But as the first arrests came to Ripoll, some locals jeered at
the detainees, threatening them.
There also was graffiti spray-painted near one of the mosques
that read Moors out! a reference to Moroccan immigrants.
Over the past two days, stickers also appeared on street signs
reading enough Islamization with a picture of a mosque and a
line drawn across it.
Irene Payet, 64, lives in the same building as the Aallaa
family. She is also a local politician. Payet said she believes
the Moroccan immigrants are coddled by the government, given
rights and benefits they have not earned.
These people, they are radicals, so I am not surprised they do
this, she said. These people should be pushed aside. They are
not ready to live in our society.
Payet gestured toward the floors above her apartment.
Im sleeping with the enemy, she said.
Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.