Anti-terrorism operation in Barcelona: link with Belgian attacks established

Belgian police officers cooperated with Catalan and Spanish police to conduct a large-scale anti-terrorism operation in the Barcelona area this morning. Nine people were arrested, of whom four could be linked to the terror attacks in Belgium on 22 March last year. According to unofficial sources, "at least three" have a direct link with Yassine Atar, the brother of Oussama Atar, the alleged planner of the Brussels attacks who is still on the run. Both Atar brothers are nephews of the El Bakraoui brothers, who acted as kamikazes to blow themselves up at the Brussels Airport and the Brussels metro station Maalbeek.

The operation started this morning. Police carried out a dozen house raids on different locations in the Barcelona area, in the city itself, and in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Ripollet, Cornella de Llobregat and Masquefa among others.

Four suspects were taken in for questioning in connection with the Belgian attacks. Apparently, three of them were seen on Brussels Airport the very same day of the blast, 22 March, the VRT has learned. They were also in Belgium shortly before the terrorist outrage, and they allegedly had telephone contacts with the Atar brothers and/or those preparing the blasts.

The three could thus be linked to the double terrorist attack in the Brussels metro and on Brussels Airport last year. They may have helped those preparing the Brussels attacks, which left 32 people dead and various others heavily injured. The three were also known to support the terrorist movement IS.

Yassine Atar is presently staying behind bars in Brussels for his possible involvement in the Belgian attacks, but his brother Oussama is still on the run.

"Suspects are in their 30ies and of Moroccan descent"

The arrested people are said to be in their thirties and to have a police record, mostly linked to drugs. According to Catalunya police, they are of Moroccan origin.

The scale of the operation was "of such a kind that the Spanish national intelligence services were informed." The investigation started 8 months ago, and Belgian police were included via the European programme EUROJUST.

The Belgian judicial authorities are not commenting on the case. Five other people were apprehended during the terror swoop this morning, but it is not clear on which account.

Below: the Atar brothers with Oussama (left) and Yassine