A woman places a flower around a memorial tribute of flowers, messages and candles on Barcelona's historic Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, the day before to the anniversary of the attacks that took place here on Aug. 17, 2017 killing 16 people and injuring more than 120. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Spain remembers terror attacks that killed 16 in Catalonia

August 17, 2018 - 5:58 am

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona on Friday marked the first anniversary of terror attacks that killed 16 people, though the divisive local issue of whether to pursue the region's independence from Spain intruded on the proceedings in the Catalan capital.

Spain's King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and other government officials were among hundreds of people attending ceremonies in the northeastern city.

The commemorations included a flower-laying ceremony by the victims' families on the famed Las Ramblas promenade, where a van mowed down scores of pedestrians. The van killed 14 and another victim was fatally stabbed.

Another person died of stab wounds in a separate attack the next day in nearby Cambrils, a seaside town where a separate ceremony was scheduled Saturday.

More than 120 people were injured.

The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group. Spanish authorities say they dismantled the cell, with its members either killed in the operation or arrested.

Amid a heavy police presence Friday, a musical performance took place in the city's broad Plaza Catalunya. Written behind the stage was the slogan: "Barcelona, city of peace."

Political tension was also present, however, after weeks of uncertainty about whether the monarch and prime minister would attend the commemorations.

Catalan politicians demanding the wealthy region's independence from Spain had initially indicated they would use the event to express their anger at the king and the head of Spain's central government for denying them what they say is their right to self-determination, but they backed off from that threat.

A victims' association, the Assembly for the Consideration and Valorization of those Affected by Terrorism, urged politicians to call "a truce" as a homage to those killed.

Even so, the local depth of feeling on the independence issue made itself felt.

A huge pro-independence banner was hung from a building overlooking the Plaza Catalunya featuring an upside-down photo of the king. It read, in English, "The Spanish king is not welcome in the Catalan countries." Nobody claimed responsibility.

Participants in a small march later along Las Ramblas held signs saying, "Catalonia has no king." Some people along the street applauded them.

Other banners were hung elsewhere in the city calling for the release of Catalan pro-independence officials being held in jail over their secession efforts.

With no other extremist attacks in Spain over the past year, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who is in charge of domestic security, said jihadism is "clearly in retreat."

"It's not going any further in Europe nor in Spain," he told Cadena Ser radio, putting that down to successful policies against radicalization.

But some analysts have warned that the impending release from prison of thousands of terrorism convicts could represent a new threat for Europe.

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