RIPOLL, Spain (Reuters) – The young Islamist militants suspected to have staged Spain’s deadliest attack in over a decade were all young men who went to school and played football together and skipped prayers at the local mosque to hang out in bars.
Neighbours who watched them grow up in the quiet mountain town of Ripoll, set beneath the Pyrenees and ringed by forested hills, said they showed no sign of radicalisation.
One of the youngest, 17-year-old Moussa Oukabir, used to help one of them take out his garbage.
“They were normal guys. They didn’t pray very much. We never thought this could happen,” the head of Ripoll’s Islamic association, Ali Yassine, said. “If I had noticed something odd, I would have been the first person to call the police.”
Even before the Barcelona van attack, Catalonia has been an Islamist hotspot in Spain, with more jihadist arrests there this year than in any other region. But at least eight of the suspects in Ripoll, a two-hour drive from Barcelona, went below the radars and police have said none were under surveillance as foreign fighters.
Another common thread running through the young men’s lives was a local imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, whose landlord said he left Ripoll two days before the attack.
Police shot dead Oukabir, along with four others, during a follow-up attack