An alleged member of the Islamist terror cell thought to be behind last week’s deadly Barcelona van attack has told a Spanish court the group was close to carrying out a much bigger strike using explosives.
The testimony to a closed hearing at Spain’s High Court on Wednesday morning (AEST) came from Mohamed Houli Chemlal, one of four detained suspects brought to Madrid to testify for the first time about the plot, a judicial source says.
Two of the suspects told the court that Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam in the small town in northeastern Spain where many of the group came from, was the instigator, the source says.
El Mundo newspaper said Chemlal told the court that the group planned to attack Antoni Gaudi’s landmark Sagrada Familia church and other Barcelona monuments but this could not be immediately confirmed.
Chemlal was arrested after being hurt in a blast at a house in Alcanar, Southwest of Barcelona, a day before Thursday’s van attack on the crowded Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona, which left a trail of 13 dead and 120 injured people from 34 countries.
Seven-year-old Australian boy Julian Cadman was among the dead while his mother and three other Australians were injured.
The 21-year-old Chemlal arrived at court wearing hospital-issue pyjamas, with a bandaged hand and cuts to his face and bare ankles.
Police found 120 butane gas canisters and traces of a home-made explosive in the rubble of the house at Alcanar, where they say two of the plotters were killed.
They believe the accidental explosion led the group to abandon plans for a bomb attack and to stage a vehicle assault instead.
The four are the only alleged members of the group still alive after the driver of the van that ploughed through the crowd in Barcelona, 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, was shot and killed by police on Monday.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and a separate assault in the resort of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.
In Cambrils, a car rammed passers-by and its occupants got out and tried to stab people. The five assailants, who were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts, were shot dead by police, while a Spanish woman died in the attack.
Most of the 12 suspects lived in the town of Ripoll, north of Barcelona, and most were young men of Moroccan descent.
The four suspects in court on Tuesday were questioned one-by-one by the investigating judge, Fernando Andreu.
Driss Oukabir, 28, whose passport was found in the abandoned van after the Barcelona attack, has maintained his innocence.
He told the court that he rented vans used in the attack but believed they were for a house move, according to Europa Press news agency.
Also in court were Mohammed Aalla, 27, owner of the Audi car used in the Cambrils attack, and Salah el Karib, 34, who ran an internet cafe in Ripoll that, according to La Vanguardia newspaper, was used to send money to Morocco.
Es Satty, the Ripoll imam who police suspect radicalised the young men, is believed to have died in the Alcanar explosion.
– With AAP