Return to Transcripts main page


Barcelona Apparent Terror Attack; Men Enters Restaurant after Crash. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Injuries. We don't know what kind, how many, how serious they are. It could -- it sounds like it could be ongoing as we speak. We are going to -- I'm going to pass off now our special coverage over to John King. This will continue.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS.

Breaking news -- troubling breaking news we're watching unfold as we speak in Spain.

Spanish police tell CNN is an apparent -- and apparent terror attack. A van plowing into a crowd of people in central Barcelona. It happened at a popular tourist area, which has since and now been sealed off.

Police say several people have been hit. And the police now warning people to stay away from this area until told otherwise.

Reuters reporting based on local Spanish media that two armed men have entered a nearby restaurant. We're getting details on this just coming into us. An early story unfolding.

Let's get what we know right now. The latest from CNN international correspondent Isa Soares in London.

Obviously it's early. Obviously you get conflicting reports, Isa, but where are we?

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, we're hearing from a spokesperson now, John, from the Catalan (ph) police basically telling us that this is most likely -- these are the words -- most likely a terror attack. And what we know thus far, we know that a van, a white van with blue writing, plowed into a group of people in Placa Catalunya in Barcelona, that leads to Las Rambas. A very popular area in Barcelona.

Plowed, mounted the sidewalk, plowing into a group of people. We know there are injuries. We have seen video. We have seen footage of people lying on the ground. We do not know how many injured. We do not know how serious those injuries are.

We also know that local authorities there have closed off the area, John. They have closed off the metro. They have also expanded the perimeter around Barcelona.

And then we have suddenly been hearing that those men behind who were driving -- reportedly driving that van, just left the van, according to one witness, and then went into a restaurant in the area, in the popular Bacarea (ph) area of el Barcelona. They went into a restaurant. A witness said they heard gunshots, an explosion and a dozen people they said screaming and several injuries. We do not know how many more.

But this is very worrying for the Spanish people, very worrying, because this is the height of summer, very popular time, of course, for tourists to visit Barcelona. Just putting it into perspective for people, it's very close to the Sagrada Familia, the sacred family, the beautiful church there. And it is packed with tourists on a summer day. It's a street that's lined with shops. It's a street that's lined with cafes and restaurants.

And we have heard from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has said in the last few minutes that the most important aspect of this right now is to facilitate and help those who have been injured. But also he made the point, John, try and help the authorities into figuring out who is behind this.

The fact that they've expanded the perimeter and the fact we're now hearing that these men have reportedly, according to the witness, have gone into this restaurant, is very worrying. Authorities there taking this extremely seriously.

KING: Isa, the police saying now most likely, most likely, obviously, the police themselves would tell you in such a situation, be careful.

SOARES: Correct.

KING: But most likely a terrorist attack. And you're sitting in London. We're watching the scene unfold in Barcelona. Across Europe, this will cause a chill, because you have yet another vehicle being used apparently to ram into a crowd of people in a crowded, popular area.

SOARES: Absolutely. And apologies for looking down. I'm just trying to get the latest and translate the latest from the prime minister -- Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He basically is saying that he's in contact with all the administrations. The important now is the priorities to tend to the injured in Las Rambles and really facilitate the work of the security forces.

But we've also been hearing from local Spanish television and witnesses inside that restaurant that I was telling you. Two basically -- we are hearing from two, three people who are still inside and they're hiding inside that restaurant. So extremely worrying.

But just to recap for those watching, we -- this is a hot summer day. Beautiful summer day, as you can see there in Barcelona. We know that a white van with blue writing mounted a pavement in Placa Catalunya that leads to Las Rambles. And then -- and then (INAUDIBLE) plowed into a group of people injury people there. We do not know the number of injuries. But we have seen -- I have seen footage and photos of people lying on the ground.

[12:05:01] Now, the police have closed off the local metro, the transportation area, around that area, but also they've expanded the perimeter, John. They're asking people to stay away from the area, stay away from social media and stay away from posting any videos or images on Twitter.

We've also heard from the security services there. We know eight ambulances are on the scene. Helicopters are also on the scene. But it is worrying because this van that crashed into -- plowed into this group of people was then abandoned, according to one witness, John. And then these two individuals went into a restaurant in Bacarea (ph) are of Las Rambles, very popular, of course, for its restaurants and its bars and there a witness tells us they heard an explosion and people now hiding inside that restaurant.

Authorities saying this is most likely -- and there's the words -- a terror attack, John.

KING: Isa Soares, continue your reporting in London. Stand by. We'll get back to you as soon as you have new information.

As Isa knows, authorities asking people to stay away unless you are in that placa, the Catalunya Regional Civil Protection Agency tweeting out, if you are in Placa Catalunya, in Barcelona, stay where you are until the police tell you you can leave.

Also we're getting this from the U.S. consulate there. We are, quote, we are aware of a reported incident in Las Rambles, Barcelona. Please avoid the area and monitor local police. It's a Twitter handle there for updates. That to Americans.

Our CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen, I believe, is with us on the phone.

And, Peter, obviously, the police, early indication they say most likely a terror attack. You heard from Isa Soares there. Local police and witnesses saying two armed men apparently -- and again I want to stress we're very early in this. Often the details change as the story develops. But two armed men hiding or taking refuge in a restaurant. And again a white van described as ramming into a crowd in a popular tourist area. Sadly, that part of it, something quite like it, we have heard too often in the past.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST (via telephone): Yes, John, I make three overall points here. This is the 14th vehicle attack, terrorist attack, we've seen in the west since 2014. Most of them have been jihadist terrorist attacks. But, obviously, you had the Charlottesville attack by a right-wing extremist just in the past week. We also the attack in London with a car outside of a mosque ramming a group of Muslims who were celebrating Ramadan, killing one. So, you know, terrorists learn from other terrorist incidents. It's a bit like school shooting where there are copycats and this mode of terrorist attack is becoming increasingly frequent. Obviously it requires absolutely no training to do these kinds of attacks. So that's the first point I'd make. The second point id' make is, you know, if you're to look at what are

the cast of potential kind of perpetrators of this attack in Spain. Obviously they have a Basque terrorist problem, ETA, which has sort of been largely acquiescent for some time. And then they have had a jihadist terrorist problem.

But, John, I would also observe that Spain has not had the same level of problem that we've seen in France or Belgium or even countries like Germany or the United Kingdom. I mean I'm hard pressed to think of a jihadi terrorist attack since the 2004 attack in Madrid that killed 194 people, but certainly those are the two groups that are the most likely in the Spanish context.

And the third observation is, you know, the reports of this -- you know, two of the perpetrators taking up -- entering a restaurant. You know, unfortunately, this leads us into a potential armed siege, which can go on for a long time. We've seen this method, you know, many times, most prominently with the Taj Hotel attack in India where jihadists terrorists kind of barricade themselves inside a hotel and killed a number of patrons and kept, you know, basically fought to the death in order to sustain media coverage of the event for as long as possible.

So those are the three observations I'd make about what we know right now, John.

KING: And stay with me one second, Peter, because the point you just made is an important one. Just to anybody watching, the local authorities, if you are in Barcelona and not in that area, they urge you to stay away. If you're in Barcelona and still in that area, they urge you to seek the guidance from the authorities, to not move about in a way on your own. Seek guidance before you do.

Peter, just from your experience, as we watch this unfold, you mentioned the possibility now of some, you know, obviously a large police presence will come to that scene. Perhaps a hunt or a manhunt or a siege around the restaurant if it is true that those two armed men are in there. Take us through what your instincts tell you about what we're about to see unfold.

[12:10:02] BERGEN: Well, unfortunately, the people who perpetrated this attack already went into it knowing that it would be a fight to the death. They've seen the kind -- these kinds of attacks in the past where people, whether it's the Taj Hotel situation in India from several years back, but that was really the beginning of this idea of, you know, let's go in, let's take hostages, let's fight to the death, let's continue the media coverage for as long as possible. You recall, John, that the Taj siege went on for three days, garnering a, you know, a huge amount of publicity for the Pakistani-based terrorists who carried out the attack.

And then we've seen similar incidents in Bangladesh more recently, for instance, where a group of ISIS sort of affiliated terrorists went into a restaurant popular for locals and took hostages, killed hostages and kept the story going for as long as they could before they were killed by law enforcement.'' So, you know, early days yet, but if this is a jihadist terrorist attack, which is not impossible, you know, that may well be the modus operandi of the people behind the attack who essentially go into the mission believing they're going to quote/unquote martyr themselves and are willing to fight to the death to sustain media coverage for as long as possible.

KING: Peter, stay with me.

I want to bring some of the -- excuse me, bring our viewers some of the new details we are getting. Remember, Barcelona, a thriving city, 1.7 million people.

Accounts from witnesses are starting to trickle in. One witness who says he's hiding in a shop nearby, has heard gunshots. That's according to local media TV E-24, that station.

Another witness said he saw a van driving at about 80 kilometers per hour. He said there's no doubt, this witness saying, that it is intentional.

And, again, these are early witness accounts, Peter, but apparently reports of gunshots, report of someone saying he has now doubt that it is intentional.

We've started the conversation. We have seen this, sadly, we've seen it in London a couple of times. We've seen it in Paris. We've seen it in Stockholm. We've seen it in Brussels. You mentioning that it's more rare in the case of Spain.

A western -- obviously a thriving western city. That would be -- could be one reason. Is there something unique to Spanish domestic politics that we should also be thinking about?

BERGEN: Well, one thing, John, you know, the flow of foreign fighters, so-called foreign fighters from Europe into Syria and Iraq, you know, the countries with the big numbers, 1,500 from France, 750 from Belgium, which is obviously a relatively small country, 750 from Germany. Same kind of number, figures, from Britain.

Spain has had a relatively small number of -- compared to other European countries -- of people volunteering to go and fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. So -- which is one of the reasons we haven't seen, you know, so much jihadist terrorist activity in Spain. So, you know, that is one factor here.

But, you know, you can't completely discount the idea that this might be Baath separatists. I think that's less likely, but it's certainly not impossible. Baath separatists have been somewhat quiescent in recent years. And their organization, ETA (ph), has been, you know, largely dismantled by Spanish authorities. But, generally, they would also be potential suspects in this case, John.

KING: Peter Bergen, stay with us. We're trying to get some additional reporting as well. For those of you just joining us, I want to recap what we do know so

far. Witnesses say they saw a van in this area -- you're seeing the pictures right there on the right of your screen -- saw a white van crash into a crowd of people. This in the main square at the beginning, right at a pedestrian walkway area, Las Rambles area in Barcelona. Local media saying the situation very tense.

One eyewitness telling TVE-24 (ph) he has heard gunshots. Another witnesses who said he saw the van driving at around 80 kilometers per hour. Says, quote, there is no doubt it was intentional. That is an eyewitness account. Obviously we're waiting for more information from the authorities.

From the Spanish authorities we are told, number one, they are obviously responding to the scene. You see some of that in the pictures you see there. Number two, they are urging people -- remember, Barcelona, a thriving city in its own right, also a very popular tourist attraction this time of year, urging people to stay away. Do not go there out of curiosity. And telling people who might still be in the area to be very careful to not move about in any random way and to seek the guidance of the authorities responding to the scene.

Our reporters are trying to get more information on this, but, Peter Bergen, that it took such a short period of time for the authorities to say very likely a terrorist attack.

Peter, stand by for me.

We have on the phone an eyewitness, Pablo Morante.

Pablo, please, this is John King speaking to you from Washington. Please, tell me, where you were, and exactly what you saw.

PABLO MORANTE, EYEWITNESS (via telephone): How you doing? Las Rambles in (INAUDBILE) when the attack happened. And we saw a lot of people running all directions. The police began to arrive very quickly. So --

[12:15:20] KING: OK, Pablo -- Pablo, we're having trouble with your phone signal so we're going to try to improve the connection so we can continue the conversation with you. Please work with our producers in the control room. We'll find a way to get that signal to bring you back.

As we try to do that, Peter Bergen, again, that they were -- the police were so quickly -- perhaps based on information they had that we don't -- but pretty quickly saying very likely a terrorist attack. You see reports from the scene. Two armed men entering a restaurant after a van hits a crowd. Vehicles, vehicles have become a recurring part of these stories, especially in these populated western cities.

BERGEN: Yes, 14 vehicle attacks since 2014, John. Almost -- 12 of them jihadi terror attacks, ISIS-inspired. You know, unfortunately, the death toll can be pretty high. You will recall, of course, the Nice, France, attack on Bastille Day, July 14th, that killed 84 people. Recall the Berlin Christmas market attack that killed 12 people. And so, you know, if the perpetrator, as what seems to be the case in this case, has a large enough vehicle, a van, and, you know, accelerates at 80 kilometers an hour into a crowded tourist region, a crowded tourist spot, you'll -- unfortunately, you're going to see quite a number of injuries and even fatalities.

KING: And you can see, even from the pictures if you've been with us the past few minutes, the police presence. You see more vehicles, more officers, as this situation unfolds.

And in most of these cases, am I right, Peter, when it has been a terrorist attack using a vehicle, in most of these cases it has been a singular attack, one vehicle? So, obviously, one of the questions that police will be having in the region, is there something else? Is this part of something bigger? But in most of these cases, and this is why they're so hard to, a, advance detect and then, b, to stop as they play out. You get two or three people in a vehicle and they ram a crowd.

BERGEN: Right. Quite a number of these have been so-called lone wolf or lone actor attacks. In this case, we seem to have two perpetrators. It reminds me a little bit of the attack, John, on London Bridge where they rammed into people on the bridge and then they went over to an area near London Bridge and tried to attack people in neighboring pubs. And it was a group of -- you know, more than one person.

So, you know, terrorists, like school shooters, learn from prevention incidents and they study them. And, unfortunately, this seems to be a mix of two different tactics here, the vehicle attack that kills or maims quite a number of people and then, you know, essentially setting up a barricade, siege situation, inside of a restaurant and sort of sustaining the media coverage for as long as possible because they, unfortunately, will likely take hostages and try and spin this out for as long as possible.

KING: All right. And those are the details we're trying to get. You're listening to the voice of Peter Bergen, our CNN terrorism analyst. And as Peter notes, we are told by authorities that -- well, we're told by witnesses, two men apparently leaving a van after it rammed into a crowd. We're trying to get an extent of the scope of the injuries. We're told there are many.

Eyewitnesses say the two men have since retreated into a restaurant. The question there is, are they hiding. Or, as Peter notes, are they trying to take hostages to provoke a standoff? You see from the pictures, heavy law enforcement presence on the scene there in central Barcelona.

Joining me now on the phone is our CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, any information you have, number one, about what happened. And, b, just about the history in this area. When -- obviously, U.S. agencies joining other allied agencies trying to share and get as much information as they can. But what do we know?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECRUITY CORRESPONDENT: I was speaking, John, to European security sources and, of course, their initial read is that this is an act of terrorism. It bears all the hallmarks.

A couple notes about Barcelona. Barcelona has a militant population there that security authorities are aware of. It is isolated. It is hard to penetrate, as they often are. There are a lot of Pakistani immigrants, Moroccans. The Pakistanis with ties to Locter Itiba (ph), which is a large, very powerful Pakistani terrorist group that has carried out some horrific attacks in Pakistan.

KING: Jim -- Jim, I want to jump in. I'm sorry. Apologies, Jim. I just want to jump in for one second because we're getting some new information. This is from TVE-24, state run television in Spain, now saying at least one person has been killed, 20 injured in what they say is most likely, probably, a terrorist attack.

My apologies. Jim Sciutto, continue.

[12:20:00] SCIUTTO: No, no problem at all.

The other point I would make is, when you look at the modus operandi here, this looks very similar to the attack in London a few weeks ago, right? Remember the attack on Borough Market started with a ramming attack and then those men went through the market there (INAUDIBLE) with knives and attacked more. It appears these men may have guns, or maybe gunshots are coming from authorities. Regardless, again, it fits that kind of pattern. But this is a community there that authorities have been aware of, the militant community. Difficult for them to keep tabs on, as they often are. You think of those communities in Brussels that we've reported on before. All of the -- all hard to get inside and therefore hard to get (INAUDIBLE) on what plans these guys (INAUDIBLE) kind of actors have coming up.

KING: And, Jim, to that point, when counterterrorism agencies around the world have these conversations and they try to learn the lessons of Paris, the lessons of several attacks in London, now we're watching this scene unfold. And, again, our early information will change, obviously, over the course of the hours and days ahead.

Have there been any, in these conversations, any new conversations about how? This is so hard. as I was discussing with Peter Bergen, two or three people. You don't need a lot of planning. You get into a van. You go to a popular tourist site, as we have here in central Barcelona. What is the conversation among counterterrorism and security officials about what, if anything, I think if anything is the hard part, they can do to try to stop these?

SCHIUTTO: Well, one point is this, after -- after the terrorist attacks in November of 2015, there had been a lot of criticism about the lack of sufficient intel sharing among the European intelligence agencies. And even some questionable sharing inside countries, that the police weren't talking to the intel services, et cetera. Since then, and I've heard this from U.S. intelligence officials but also European, their sharing has been a lot better. They've been doing a better job of that. But, remember, when we've covered acts of terrorism in France and

elsewhere, they have a lot of jihadi suspects to follow. Too many for them to follow everyone. And that's why so often when you have these attacks, you have folks who were actually on police radar and yet they were able to carry -- they were able to carry out these attacks because it's not physically possible to follow every one.

KING: All right. An important point you make. Jim, stand by one second.

I just want to update out viewers. Authorities say they're still looking for the driver. You're seeing these pictures here split screen we're getting from affiliates in Barcelona, Spain. You see police cordoning off the area. Other police officers walking about. Police vehicles as well. That presence has dramatically increased in the last 20-plus minutes as they respond to this scene.

Again, from eyewitnesses and from the local police, a white van said to crash into a crowd of people. TVE, state-run TV in Spain, reporting one dead, at least 20 injured in this attack in central Barcelona.

Jim Sciutto, you were talking about the criticism about information sharing, intelligence sharing between and among the European intelligence agencies. That reminded me, there was a big dust-up after the recent London attack where even the prime minister of Great Britain criticized the United States because U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agencies leaked some photos and there was some tension there.

As we speak today, that obviously involved the U.S. and the U.K., not the United States and Spain. But is there any indication that there's any barriers, any frustration, any tensions, or has that been resolved between the United States and its partners in Europe?

SCUTTO: Well, the trend (ph) -- and I hear this from both sides, on the U.S. side and the European side -- the transatlantic cooperation has been very strong. Even predating Paris. There's been a lot of information going back and forth. The U.S. close allies over there. And the U.S., frankly, has resources. They just don't have, in terms of surveillance, et cetera, not to mention military presence in the battlefield where a lot of these plots are -- end up, right, Syria, et cetera.

So, yes, there was that dust-up following about the U.S. releasing more information than the Brits wanted. But in terms of counterterror cooperation, intelligence sharing, I don't hear criticism across the Atlantic, right? It seems that those channels are open and wide and the cooperation is very strong.

KING: Jim, stand by.

I just want to keep our viewers posted on what we're seeing. What you're seeing there on two screens, the rising police presence in central Barcelona. The Laos Rambles area of Barcelona, if you're familiar with it. Obviously a thriving city. A big tourist attraction. Eyewitnesses and local authorities saying a white van crashed into a crowd of people. TVE in Spain now reporting one dead, at least 20 injured.

Eyewitnesses saying they believe that it was deliberate. The driving into the -- the ramming of the crowd there. And another eyewitness saying two armed men have run into a local restaurant at that scene, but we're trying to ascertain now from local authorities and obviously they're responding to the crime scene there, not being as quick with information. They may not have a lot of this information about where are those two men, have they been located, what is the police presence in the area, has there been any contact or communication?

[12:25:17] Authorities do say they are still looking for the driver of that van. And as you watch these pictures, obvious guidance, I guess, but worth repeating, the Spanish authorities saying if you're in Barcelona, stay away from this area. And if you are in the actual square where this happened, be careful. Do not move about randomly and communicate with the local authorities who are there.

Again, at least one person dead, 20 injured after a van plowed into a crowd of people in Barcelona. And the authorities saying this is most likely, probably, a terrorist attack.

Jim Sciutto, as we continue the conversation, you have been through too many of these, in different parts of the world. What is happening no these counterterrorism centers, in these law enforcement centers, starting in Barcelona, but, obviously, around Spain and then around Europe and the United States, where people try to get information and try to help?

SCIUTTO: Here's a challenge, that the radicalization process has quickened. I've been hearing this for months, that it used to be that it would take months, or perhaps years, to cultivate a terror recruit. And now the word is that it can happen in a matter of weeks. That someone watching enough videos online, going to Islamist chat rooms, et cetera, can go from invisible, not known to be a threat, to carrying out an attack. And that makes it -- when that timeline is shorter, it makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, to interrupt it, because it could be someone who came out of nowhere. You had no idea they were a threat. That is a real concern.

The other point I would make, John, just in light of the last few days in our country. Five days apart, you've had a white nationalist and what appears to be terrorists in the U.K. use a vehicle to kill someone, right? And just as a matter of parallels, you hear the same thing about how white nationalists, and keep in mind that violent extremism in the U.S. is often just as much in that category as from the Islamist category, that they are also being radicalized online and often very quickly. So you see you have --I mean the parallels are remarkable.

KING: All right, Jim Sciutto, stand by. Continue your reporting.

I just want to update our viewers on what we're seeing here.

Authorities now saying more than one have died in this attack in central Barcelona, Spain, that they are attributing as a probable terrorist attack. More than one. We don't have a more definite number. Apologies, but that's what happens early on in these situations.

More than one we are now told -- it's being reported by state TV -- have been killed in this attack in central Barcelona. A van ramming into a crowd of people. Twenty or more have been injured. Again, eyewitnesses say they believe it was intentional. A white van ramming into a crowd. Authorities are saying they believe this to be most likely a terrorist attack.

Eyewitnesses also saying two gunmen too refuge in a local restaurant. The question now is, are they hiding? Is there a hostage situation? Is there a standoff? We're trying to get more information on that as the situation develops.

You see the heavy law enforcement presence on the scene there. We're going to take a very quick break, continuing our reporting, but much more on this breaking news story straight out of Barcelona, Spain, when we return in just a moment.