As it has on this day every year since 2017, the centre of Barcelona has been tranformed into a solemn space this Wednesday, August 17th, to pay tribute to the victims of the Jihadist terrorist attacks that summer afternoon that caused 16 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The commemoration took place at the memorial located on the Pla de l'Os on the pedestrian avenue of the Rambla, at the exact spot where the van came to a halt on the day of the attack and where there is now a plaque embedded in the pavement commemorating the events with the words 'May peace cover you, oh city of peace' written in Catalan, Spanish, English and Arabic.
The event got under promptly at 10am. Ahead of the start, the Mossos d'Esquadra and Barcelona city police had closed off the space to prohibit traffic access and regulate the influx of pedestrians. What they were unable to avoid, however, was that a hundred protesters gathered around the emotive event to show their displeasure with the investigation of the facts. Displaying posters with slogans such as 'We demand the truth' and 'We demand accountability', they also chanted messages against the Spanish state at several moments during the ceremony.
Despite this, the homage continued its course. The writer Saheb, making the principal address, recalled that "today marks five years since the attack, time will never be able to erase the memory of those who are no longer here". "They are names we know and some are still unknown, our memory must be for all the people who have suffered," she added. Saheb also referred to the plaque embedded in the Rambla paving at that same point, commenting that the multilingual phrase "sums it all up". "This is what we want, to make possible the memory of those we love."
This was followed by a minute of silence, which was interrupted by some of the demonstrators. One protester in particular wanted to accuse the Spanish state, also echoing the words voiced by former Spanish police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo: "We are going to give a little scare to the Catalans". "The Spanish state is a state of murderers", he also shouted. And then the most emotional moment arrived, with the floral offering. Accompanied by the Catalan lullaby 'Cant dels ocells', performed by the VOZES choral group, the families were the first to place flowers in the urns. Later, it was the political representatives who took part, who were also strongly jeered by the demonstrators. After the event was over, there were some tense moments. Some of the protesters who broke the silence during the tribute with their calls to clarify the facts confronted the victims of the attacks.
Colau, Aragonès and Borràs
One of the victims of the attack spoke to the media, explaining that after five years there is still "no centre established for victims to go to seek help". "It's very grave," she said. In addition, she shared the consequences of the events in her family's life, explaining how on "many days" she and her son are afraid to go outside. There are, for example, common noises such as car brakes that cause feelings of "panic". "It disrupts your life and psychological help is sorely lacking," she reclaimed. Furthermore, she also pointed a finger of blame directly at the institutions, criticizing the fact that an investigative commission has not been launched in the Congress of Deputies and that the Spanish state has not acted.
Present at the event was a large delegation of political representatives of practically all parties. The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, and the suspended speaker of Parliament, Laura Borràs were there. Officially representing the Catalan chamber, however, was the socialist Assumpta Escarp. Also there on behalf of the Catalan government were minister Joan Ignasi Elena and Josep Maria Argimon, and vice-president Jordi Puigneró. And on behalf of the Spanish government, the ministers Miquel Iceta and Raquel Sánchez.
The sequence of events
On the night of August 16th, 2017, a violent explosion took place in the southern Catalonia locality of Alcanar, completely destroying a house where the terrorists were preparing their bombings, killing two of them and precipitating the situation. This led the terrorists to improvise the attacks that took place the following day. Shortly before 5pm on the 17th, a van drove onto the pedestrian boulevard of the Rambla and ran down dozens of people between Plaça Catalunya and the Liceu, causing 14 deaths. And that same night, in Cambrils, five other members of the terror cell ran down another six people, and killed one person, before they themselves were shot down by Mossos police. The driver of the Rambla van, Younes Abouyaaqoub, would be shot down four days later by the Mossos d'Esquadra after being on the loose since his murderous attack on the famous Barcelona avenue. As he fled, he had killed one further victim in Barcelona city.