Alcanar, Spain | AFP | Martine Groby rues the day when she ignored her father who told her: “They are terrorists, take down their number plates.”
“I should have listened to him,” said Groby, who saw all the windows of her home in Spain shatter when a massive explosion detonated in the house next door on Wednesday.
It turned out that house hidden behind olive trees was likely the bomb factory of suspected jihadists who used vehicles to mow down pedestrians in Barcelona on Thursday and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils hours later.
It was in the small seaside town of Alcanar, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) southwest of the Catalan capital, where the cell was apparently plotting “one or more attacks” in Barcelona, said regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero.
But they are believed to have accidentally detonated an explosion, which blew up at least two of them, and forced them to change their plans.
– ‘Stank of gunpowder’ –
Investigators combing the site have uncovered 120 gas canisters, as well as detected traces of TATP — the explosive of choice for the Islamic State organisation, which has claimed the assaults.
“It stank of gun powder. An impossible stench, I told police on the night of the explosion, but they didn’t want to listen to me,” complained Jenny Rodriguez, 37, who lives just across the road.
It was only after the double attack that killed 14 people that police drew a link to the Alcanar explosion.
In the small area of Alcanar blocked off by police, the streets are deserted and inhabitants silent.
The groan of air-conditioners working overtime in the searing summer heat and the barks of dogs are punctuated by explosions of gas canisters still buried in the bomb factory and the noise of police tractors removing rubble.
Ask locals walking through the district about the house and they say they have never seen or heard the “men who lived there”.
– ‘No music, no children, no women’ –
Groby, a French national, however said she saw them often.
She comes only several times a year to her pink-painted villa but she noticed that four men “who all speak French” were in the house next door since April.
They told her they had rented the house.
“I called them squatters,” she said.