Spain to start trial of suspects linked to deadly 2017 van attack

FILE PHOTO: People gather at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court will on Tuesday open the trial of three suspected Islamist militants linked to a 2017 attack in Barcelona which killed 14 people – Spain’s deadliest in over a decade.

A single attacker drove a rented van into crowds on Barcelona’s central La Rambla boulevard, causing 14 deaths and injuring over a hundred people. Another man was killed during the attacker’s getaway.

On the eve of the attack, an accidental explosion destroyed a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, where explosives and gas canisters had been stored. The blast killed the group’s suspected leader, an imam.

Two of the accused, a Spaniard and a Moroccan, face charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, manufacturing and storing explosives, and attempting to cause widespread destruction, which are all related to the Alcanar blast but not directly to the Barcelona attack, according to court documents.

Prosecutors are seeking jail terms of 41 and 36 years for the two and eight years for another Moroccan national who is accused of being an accomplice. They have been in prison pending trial since their arrests in 2017 in connection with the blast.

Eulogio Paz, head of one of the victims’ associations acting as a civil party in the trial, said on Friday his group was “going to fight for a murder charge and sentence for the accused … regardless of whether they were closer or further away from the van” used in Barcelona.

They demand perpetual sentences for the two main suspects.

The day after the attack on Aug. 17, five militants drove a car into a crowd in the coastal resort of Cambrils and used knives to attack bystanders, killing a woman and injuring several others, before being shot dead by police. Officers also killed the Barcelona attacker a few days later.

The trial, which is expected to run through Dec. 16, comes as various European countries step up security following recent Islamist attacks in France and Austria.

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