Terrorism has brought bloodshed to the streets of Europe again, this time hitting Barcelona. A van in the crowd and at least 13 dead, according to official police estimates. More than a dozen injured and blood flowing on the sidewalk of the famous Las Ramblas boulevard, the heart of the Catalonian city. Once again, the horror of Islamic terrorism has hit a city’s main tourist attraction, its life and beauty. And it hit where it had seemed impossible for tragedy to strike. The cruelty of the Barcelona attack is dumbfounding, paralyzing and reminiscent of last summer’s attack on Nice, which was also in the beating heart of a Mediterranean city, full of tourists in the middle of a celebration. And there, a vehicle also charged the crowd aiming to kill as many people as possible.
Los Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalonian police, have been careful not to leak information about the attack. There have been rumors about a second van, as there has also been hearsay about a Spanish passport being found inside the vehicle used to mow down more than a dozen innocent people. If this news is confirmed, comparisons with the Nice attack and other similar attacks will increase, leaving little doubt about the formula of the onslaught. It would then be not only an attack of Islamist design, but one that has merged into a trail of blood followed for years by disciples of the Islamic State.
For quite some time, unfortunately, it has been known that Barcelona was vulnerable to terrorism. According to analysis by the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid, it is one of the cradles of Spanish jihadism, along with the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. It is exactly for this reason that two months ago, the CIA itself alerted Catalonian intelligence, specifically Mossos d’Esquadra, of the extreme risk of a terrorist attack on Barcelona targeting Las Ramblas: a symbolic target, perfectly in line with the other attacks that have shed blood over Europe. An attack designed to strike not just an icon of a city, but above all, an icon of Western Europe; of the lifestyle that radical Islam wants to extirpate from the world.
Unfortunately, even in this case, doubts and confusion about the incident remain. For months, the Catalonian police have been accused of not being equipped to face a serious threat such as jihadism. The officers are not prepared. They are unarmed and there are too few of them. Spain is a primary target. For a long time, it has been threatened on the web by groups affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Al-Andalus, the land of conquest, remains as an emblem for all radical Islamists who wish to strike the heart of Europe. Al-Qaida in the Maghreb and the Islamic State group, through their respective linked websites and official online magazines, have never denied that the Iberian Peninsula would be the target of their attacks. And precisely in response to this threat, Spanish law enforcement, intelligence and all the police of the autonomous community have been working as much as possible to shut down the growing threat of Islamic terrorism in their country.
At this point, Barcelona unfortunately can only mourn its victims, though there is still doubt and confusion about whether these tragedies can be avoided. Why did no one do anything if the American CIA itself had warned of this risk? But another question, most importantly: why did the Catalonian police not see to it that someone with a van was not able to get near the tourist center of Barcelona to kill more than a dozen innocent tourists and citizens? These are the same questions that were posed after the Nice attack. Questions that we all hoped not to have to pose once Nice had shown the weaknesses of counterterrorism.