The suspect at the centre of a major manhunt by police investigating the terror attacks in Catalonia was the driver of the van that killed 13 people on Las Ramblas, Barcelona, an official has said.
Joaquim Forn, head of home affairs in Catalonia’s regional government, told a radio station “everything indicates” Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was behind the wheel.
Abouyaaqoub, who has reportedly fled into France on foot, is believed to be the only at-large member of the 12-strong terror cell behind the attacks in Barcelona and the seaside town of Cambrils, which left 14 dead and around 130 injured.
Three of the group remain unaccounted for by police, but it is believed two of those were killed in an explosion on Wednesday at the house in Alcanar where the terror plot was hatched.
It comes as police reportedly probe claims the cell was radicalised by an imam with links to the Madrid train bombers and an area in Belgium known as a hotspot for Islamic State recruiting.
Spanish newspaper El Pais said Abdelbaki Es Satty was imam at one of the two mosques in Ripoll, in the north-east of Spain near to the French border and around 62 miles from Barcelona.
All of the main suspects are believed to have lived in the small town, famous for its monastery, and which has a Muslim community of around 500 people.
Es Satty was reportedly friends and acquaintances with some of those jailed of the Madrid train bombings in 2004, having spent four years in prison himself for drug trafficking and breaking Spanish immigration laws, the newspaper said.
He also had spent several months looking for work in the Vilvoorde district north of Brussels, in Belgium, the region’s mayor Hans Bonte told Belgian newspaper De Morgen.
Vilvoorde is known for jihadi activity and police were said to have contacted the Catalan department of justice and were told Es Satty had no links to extremist violence.
Police are investigating his role in radicalising the younger members of the cell before he was reportedly killed in the explosion in Alcanar, 124 miles south of Barcelona.
Officials believe the terror group behind the attacks were plotting much deadlier carnage using explosives favoured by Islamic State militants.
Three vehicles were rented using the credit card of Abouyaaqoub and police believe the group wanted to load the vans with explosives for a big attack, but were forced to change their plans after the house in Alcanar blew up.
The group is said to have stored more than 100 gas tanks and explosive ingredients at the house.
Five members of the cell were shot dead, four are in custody and as many as two were killed in the explosion, an interior minister said.
Some 34 nationalities were among those wounded in the attacks in Las Ramblas and Cambrils, which lies around 70 miles to the south west of Barcelona.
Victims of the atrocity in Barcelona have been identified as British/Australian, Italian, Portuguese, Belgian, Spanish, Spanish/Argentine, Canadian and American.
Among them was Julian Cadman, a dual British-Australian national who was separated from his mother on Las Ramblas during the massacre.
His family said: “He was so energetic, funny and cheeky, always bringing a smile to our faces.”