Medical staff members and policemen stand in a cordoned off area after a van plowed into the crowd, injuring several persons on the Rambla in Barcelona on August 17, 2017. Police in Barcelona said they were dealing with a “terrorist attack” after a vehicle ploughed into a crowd of pedestrians on the city’s famous Las Ramblas boulevard on August 17, 2017. (AFP Photo)
(Independent) Catalan police report people had died after a van plowed into a crowd of people in Las Ramblas area of Barcelona, in what authorities are treating as a terror attack.
Police have not yet confirmed the number of casualties. Authorities said the vehicle mounted a pavement and struck people in a “massive crash” in an area of the city that is popular with tourists.
El Periodico newspaper reported there were between 20 to 25 people injured, citing police sources. The numbers are likely to go up.
Police say they have activated the protocols for a terror attack.
The El Pais newspaper reported that the driver of the vehicle had fled on foot and that police are still looking for a man about 1.70 metres tall, wearing a white and blue stripped shirt.
Two armed men are reportedly holed up in a bar in the city centre. It has not been confirmed whether the men were involved in the crash. One witness told The Independenthe had heard a hostage situation was unfolding.
An armed police operation is underway.
The van entered the pedestrian street from Placa de Catalunya and crashed into a kiosk on La Rambla.
Emergency services are urging people to avoid the area and requested the closure of nearby train and metro stations.
Ambulances and bomb disposal crews have gathered en masse at the scene.
Harrowing footage posted on social media shows dozens of people, seemingly injured, lying on the floor being cared for by emergency services.
Daniela Goicoechea, who was walking along La Rambla with three children aged one, two and five, told The Independent: “People started running but we didn’t know what was happening. There was a lot of people running. Then policemen began chasing people. We were lost, we ran with three babies and hid in a cafe nearby.”
Videos of the scene posted on social media show people screaming as they run away from Las Ramblas district.
I was just riding my bike to the right of the Ramblas when a large white van came racing down the promenade plowing into everyone…in shock
— Dubfire (@dubfire) August 17, 2017
Total panic – we are all getting pushed back- la Ramblas pic.twitter.com/1MwYLfFZJc
— Aamer Anwar (@AamerAnwar) August 17, 2017
Aamer Anwar was walking down Las Ramblas at the time, which he said was “jam-packed” with tourists.
He told Sky News: “All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids.
“Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere. Then the whole street started getting pushed back.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are in contact with the Spanish authorities and seeking more information following an incident in Barcelona.
“Anyone in the area should follow the advice of the emergency services.”
Pictures of the van show a white vehicle with the logo of the rental company Telefurgo on its side.
While full details of the incident were not immediately clear, since July 2016 vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of militant attacks across Europe, killing well over 100 people in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm.
There have been no previous terror attacks claimed by Isis in Spain, where almost 200 people were killed by al-Qaeda inspired terrorists in the Madrid bombings in 2004.
The terrorist group has issued repeated calls for followers to attack “disbelievers” in the West, including detailed guidance on how to carry out vehicle attacks in high-profile public places.