Spain investigates missing imam, mysterious explosion

Families of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils gather along with members of the local Muslim community to denounce terrorism and show their grief in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Families of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils gather along with members of the local Muslim community to denounce terrorism and show their grief in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Two boots with flowers left by firefighters from Barcelona are seen next to flags, messages and candles to the victims on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade on the Joan Miro mosaic, embedded in the pavement where the van stopped after killing at least 13 people in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Spain's Princess Letizia speaks with one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
A woman cries at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the victims on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade, where a van attack killed at least 13 people, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN. Spain's Princess Letizia speaks with one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN. Spain's Princess Letizia speaks with one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN. Spain's Princess Letizia speaks with one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
A woman cries as she holds a banner reading in Catalan "we also suffer it" during a demonstration on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade, in Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN. Spain's Princess Letizia speaks with one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN. Spain's King Felipe speaks to one of the victims of the van attacks at a hospital in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (Spanish Royal Palace, Pool Photo via AP)
A woman holds a banner reading in Spanish "Islam means Peace" during a demonstration on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade, where a van attack killed at least 13 people, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
People pay their respects at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the victims on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade on the Joan Miro mosaic, embedded in the pavement where the van stopped after killing at least 13 people in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A man with his son light candles at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the victims on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade on the Joan Miro mosaic, embedded in the pavement where the van stopped after killing at least 13 people in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A Catalunya regional police officer patrols the Barceloneta beach front in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Catalunya regional police officers patrol the Barceloneta beach front in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Spain's King Felipe, accompanied by Princess Letizia meets hospital staff before visiting some of the victims of the van attacks in Barcelona , Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
French police officers check vehicles at the border crossing between Spain and France in Dantcharia, southwestern France, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. French police are carrying out extra border checks on people arriving from Spain as authorities search for a fugitive suspect in the Barcelona attacks. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
This is an undated handout photo sourced from social media of 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaquoub. Authorities in Spain and France pressed their search Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017 for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. One of the main suspects in the attacks, Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was believed to be at large. His name figures on a police list of four main suspects sought in the attack. All the suspects on the list hail from Ripoll, a quiet, upscale town of 10,000 about 100 kilomaters north of Barcelona. (Social Media via AP)
This is an undated handout photo of Moussa Oukabir that was sourced from social media on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed their search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. 17-year-old Oukabir was named on the list of suspects and his brother Driss reported his documents stolen to police in Ripoll. Ripoll's mayor confirmed the documents were found in one of the vehicles used in the attacks. (Social Media via AP)
A mattress lies on the floor in an apartment where neighbours said an Imam lived after the police raided and searched the flat in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A French flag flies at half-staff for the victims of the Spain attacks on the Grand Palais in Paris, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A man looks at flags, messages and candles placed after a van attack that killed at least 13, in central Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A man lays down next to messages and candles placed after a van attack that killed at least 13, in central Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A couple looks at flags, messages and candles placed after van attack that killed at least 13, in central Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Police on Friday shot and killed five people carrying bomb belts who were connected to the Barcelona van attack, as the manhunt intensified for the perpetrators of Europe's latest rampage claimed by the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Families of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils gather along with members of the local Muslim community to denounce terrorism and show their grief in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
People hold signs reading in Catalan: "Not in my name" as families of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils gather along with members of the local Muslim community to denounce terrorism and show their grief in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Castellers or human towers performance at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the van attack victims in Las Ramblas promenade, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage.(AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
People walk along a street at the Boqueria market in Raval, the neighbourhood in central Barcelona where the vehicle attack took place, in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Spain's King Felipe pays respects at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the van attack victims in Las Ramblas promenade, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage.(AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A woman holds a placard reading in Catalan: "Not in my name", as families of young men believed responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils gather along with members of the local Muslim community to denounce terrorism and show their grief in Ripoll, north of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday Aug. 19, 2017. Authorities in Spain and France pressed the search Saturday for the supposed ringleader of an Islamic extremist cell that carried out vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, as the investigation focused on links among the Moroccan members and the house where they plotted the carnage. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
People pay respect at a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles to the victims on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas promenade on the Joan Miro mosaic, embedded in the pavement where the van stopped after killing at least 13 people in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

RIPOLL, Spain — A missing imam and a house that exploded days ago became the focus Saturday of the investigation into an extremist cell responsible for two deadly attacks in Barcelona and a nearby resort, as authorities narrowed in on who radicalized a group of young men in northeastern Spain.

Investigators searched the home of Abdelbaki Es Satty, an imam who in June abruptly quit working at a mosque in the town of Ripoll, the home of the Islamic radicals behind the attacks that killed 14 people and wounded over 120 in the last few days. Police were trying to determine whether Es Satty was killed in a botched bomb-making operation on Wednesday, the eve of the Barcelona bloodshed.

His former mosque has denounced the deadly attacks and weeping relatives marched into a Ripoll square on Saturday, tearfully denying any knowledge of the radical plans of their sons and brothers. At least one of the suspects is still on the run, and his younger brother has disappeared, as has the younger brother of one of the five attackers slain Friday by police.

Catalan police said a manhunt was centered on Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan suspected of driving the van that plowed into a packed Barcelona promenade Thursday, killing 13 people and injuring 120. Another attack early Friday killed one person and wounded five in the resort of Cambrils.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both.

Everyone so far known in the cell grew up in Ripoll, a town in the Catalan foothills near the French border 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Barcelona. Spanish police searched nine homes in Ripoll, including Es Satty's, and two buses, and set up a roadblock that checked each car entering the town. Across the Pyrenees, French police carried out extra border checks on people coming in from Spain.

Neighbors, family and even the mayor of Ripoll said they were shocked by news of the alleged involvement of the young men, whom all described as integrated Spanish and Catalan speakers with friends of all backgrounds.

Halima Hychami, the weeping mother of Mohamed Hychami, one of the attackers named by police, said he told her he was leaving on vacation and would return Aug. 25. His younger brother, Omar, slept late Thursday and left mid-afternoon.

Mohamed Hychami is believed among the five attackers shot to death by police in Cambrils. She hasn't heard from Omar since he left.

"We found out by watching TV, same as all of you. They never talked about the imam. They were normal boys. They took care of me, booked my flight when I went on vacation. They all had jobs. They didn't steal. Never had a problem with me or anybody else. I can't understand it," she said.

Even with Abouyaaquoub at large, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido declared the cell "broken" Saturday. In addition to the five killed by police, four were in custody and one or two were killed in a house explosion Wednesday. He said there was no new imminent threat of attack.

Police also conducted a series of controlled explosions Saturday in the town of Alcanar, south of Barcelona, where the attacks were planned in house that was destroyed Wednesday by an explosion. Authorities had initially thought it was a gas accident, but took another look after the attacks.

Initially, only one person was believed killed in the Wednesday blast. But officials said DNA tests were underway to determine if human remains found there Friday were from a second victim. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing searches, said investigators believed the remains may belong to Es Satty.

The official said investigators also discovered ingredients of the explosive TATP, used by the Islamic State group in attacks in Paris and Brussels, as well as multiple butane tanks that the group may have wanted to combine with the homemade explosive and load into their vehicles.

Neighbors on Saturday said they had seen three vehicles coming and going from the home, including an Audi used in the Cambrils attack and the van used in the Barcelona attack.

The president of the mosque where Es Satty preached, Ali Yassine, said he hadn't seen him since June, when he announced he was returning to Morocco for three months.

"He left the same way he came," said a bitter Wafa Marsi, a friend to many of the attackers, who appeared Saturday alongside their families to denounce terrorism.

Members of Ripoll's Muslim community denounced the vehicle attacks and offered their sympathy to the families of the victims.

Authorities said the two attacks were the work of a large terrorist cell that had been plotting for a long time from the house in Alcanar, 200 kilometers (125 miles) down the coast from Barcelona.

The lone named suspect still at large, Abouyaaquoub, figures on a police list of four main suspects sought in the attacks. Also on the list is 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, whose brother Driss reported to police that his documents stolen. Ripoll's mayor confirmed that those documents were found in a vehicle used in the attacks. Moussa was one of the five radicals killed, and Driss is in custody, police said.

A French police official said authorities were also looking for a Kangoo utility vehicle that was believed to have been rented in Spain by a suspect in the Barcelona attack that might have crossed the border.

Fatima Abouyaaquoub, sister-in-law of the Hychami brothers and the cousin of Younes Abouyaaquoub, said she found it all hard to believe.

"I'm still waiting for all of it to be a lie. I don't know if they were brainwashed or they gave them some type of medication or what. I can't explain it," she said.

Abouyaaquoub's mother said his younger brother, Hussein, left home Thursday afternoon and hasn't returned.

The sheer size of the cell and the close family relations among the attackers recalled the November 2015 attacks in Paris, in which Islamic State attackers struck the national stadium, a Paris concert hall and bars and restaurants nearly simultaneously, leaving 130 people dead. Since then, the extremist group has steadily lost ground in its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic extremists have made a point of targeting Europe's major tourist attractions in recent years — especially in rented or hijacked vehicles.

Yet Spain decided to keep its terrorist threat alert at level 4 — out of five — declaring Saturday that no new attacks were imminent. Zoido said the country would reinforce security for events that draw large crowds as well as at popular tourist sites.

The dead and wounded in the two attacks came from 34 countries. By late Saturday, the Catalan emergency service said 53 people remained hospitalized, 13 of them in critical condition.

The 14 people killed spanned generations — from age 3 to age 80 — and left behind devastated loved ones. They included a grandmother, 74, and her granddaughter, 20, from Portugal who were visiting Barcelona to celebrate a birthday; an Italian father who saved his children's lives but lost his own; an American man who was celebrating his first wedding anniversary in vibrant Barcelona.

Francisco Lopez Rodriguez, a 57-year-old Spaniard, was killed with his 3-year-old grand-nephew, Javier Martinez, while walking along the Las Ramblas promenade. His widow Roser is recovering from her wounds in a hospital.

"We are a broken family," niece Raquel Baron Lopez posted on Twitter.

___

Wilson contributed from Barcelona. Angela Charlton in Paris; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Mystyslav Chernov in Ripoll; Oleg Cetinic in Alcanar; and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.

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