A man wielding a knife lunged at an officer in a police station near Barcelona yesterday in what police said was a terrorist act, and was shot dead.
The man arrived at the closed police station in the town of Cornella de Llobregat near Barcelona at 5.45am (0345 GMT) and repeatedly pressed the buzzer to be let in, Rafel Comas, a commissioner with the Catalan regional police, told a news conference.
After police allowed him in, the man pulled out a “large knife” and lunged at officers in “a clearly premeditated desire to kill an agent of our force”, Comas said.
“The officer used her gun to save her own life,” he said, adding that the man shouted “Allah” as well as words the police officers did not understand. “These are enough indication to treat the events being investigated as a terrorist attack.”
A translation of the televised news conference into Spanish from Catalan had previously indicated Comas quoted the attacker as saying “Allah is great”.
The Arabic version of this phrase – “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) – has often been used by religious extremist attackers.
The attacker “wanted to die himself”, police added on Twitter.
Comas did not confirm Spanish media reports that he was a 29-year-old Algerian, saying only that he had been in the country “for years”.
He said that police still needed to confirm that the Algerian identity papers he carried with him were in fact his.
There was no evidence linking the attack with any terrorist cell, Comas said, adding that Spain would maintain its security alert at level 4, one notch below the maximum level which signals an attack is imminent.
The police station in Cornella de Llobregat, a working-class town of around 86,000 people, was quickly cordoned off after the attack and the attacker’s body removed, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Police explosives experts searched the man’s flat, which was located just a few hundred metres from the site of the attack.
Resident Conchi Garcia, a 50-year-old office worker, said the man came to the neighbourhood two years ago, when he moved in with a woman and her two daughters who had always lived in the area.
“It was strange that the woman started wearing the veil shortly after he arrived,” Garcia told AFP.
Last Friday, Barcelona commemorated the first anniversary of a religious extremist assault in which a young man drove a van down on Barcelona’s popular Las Ramblas boulevard, killing 14 people and injuring more than 100 in Spain’s worst attack in more than a decade.
A day later, on August 17, 2017, a knife attack in the nearby resort of Cambrils left two dead.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, Spain’s worst since the Madrid train bombings in 2004 when 191 people died and more than 1,800 were injured.
Separately yesterday, three people were injured when a car mounted a pavement in the northern town of Casetas, in what a government spokeswoman later said was being treated as an accident.
The two occupants of the car fled and were later detained.
Catalonia, which is home to a significant number of second-generation North African immigrants, has had a long history of Islamic militant activity.
Spain’s first Muslim extremist – a member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group – was uncovered in Catalonia in 1995.
Mohammed Atta, the pilot who slammed a passenger plane into one of New York’s World Trade Centre towers on September 11, 2001, spent time in Catalonia shortly before the attacks.
And in 2008, police foiled a plot targeting Barcelona’s underground trains.
One in four people detained in Spain in relation to extremist Muslim-linked terrorism come from the Catalan province of Barcelona, according to a study published last year by the Real Instituto Elcano, a Spanish think-tank, which called the province the country’s “main centre of (religious extremist) activity”.
The Islamic State group has frequently called on their followers to attack soldiers and police in neighbouring France.
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