Barcelona cell had targeted monuments; imam sought martyrdom

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Police say they’ve killed a 22-year-old man suspected of driving a van that plowed into a crowd of pedestrians Aug. 17 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Suspected members of the terror cell accused in last week’s van attack in Barcelona told a judge Tuesday that the group planned to attack monuments around the city and that the imam who led the group intended to blow himself up in the process.

Judicial sources at the hearing told the media that Mohamed Houli Chemlal, who was injured in an accidental explosion the day before the attack, testified he and other members of the cell were preparing bombs to target the city’s iconic Basilica Sagrada Familia and other sites. Chemlal said plans were scaled back after the accidental blast Wednesday, which killed two other cell members and destroyed a home packed with gas canisters in the town of Alcanar, 120 miles southwest of Barcelona.

Reuters, the Associated Press and the BBC were among international media outlets reporting information from the closed hearing in Madrid, citing judicial officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss cases.

Police announced discovery of the cell after two attacks last week. On Thursday, a van plowed into pedestrians in Barcelona, killing 13 people and wounding scores more. Police say the cell members also fatally stabbed a driver whose car was commandeered shortly after the attack.

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The next day, one person was killed and six injured when a car hit pedestrians in the coastal town of Cambrils. 

The suspected 12-member cell included the two who died in the Alcanar explosion —including imam Abdelbaki Es Satty — and five killed by police in the Cambrils attack. Four other suspects were arrested, and the alleged driver of the Barcelona van, identified as Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, was killed by police Monday after a manhunt.

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Multiple suspects identified Es Satty as the ringleader of the group, BBC reported. 

Another suspect, Driss Oukabir, admitted renting the vans but said he had no knowledge of any terrorism plans, the judicial source said. Oukabir, whose brother Moussa was fatally shot by police in Cambrils, denied involvement in the cell.

The other suspects, Mohammed Aalla and Said el Karib also were questioned. The judicial source told AP that Aalla testified his car, used in Cambrils, had been stolen.

Judge Fernando Andreu will determine whether the four will be released or jailed pending trial on murder, engaging in terrorism and other charges. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

More: Barcelona attack suspect shot dead by police

Related: Barcelona attack latest in disturbing terror vehicle trend

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