Confirming the death toll, Head of Catalonia’s Regional Interior Department Joaquim Forn said in a tweet on Thursday: “My strongest condemnation of the terrorist attack in Barcelona. We can confirm 13 deaths and more than 50 wounded.”
Regional police said they had arrested one man in relation to the incident — Driss el-Ouakbir, a man of northwestern African origin who is believed to have rented the van used in the attack, Efe news reported.
“We have arrested a man and are treating this as a terror attack,” regional police tweeted , adding that they could not confirm the motive behind the events.
Police said the attack happened at 5.00 p.m. when the van rammed into several vehicles before barrelling down the tree-lined central pedestrian-only area of Las Ramblas.
Regional police and emergency services were deployed to the area, which is at the heart of the city’s touristic centre and is visited by thousands every day.
Meanwhile Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was in “contact with all the administrations”. And the priority “is to help the injured and facilitate the work of the security forces”.
Earlier reports had said that a suspect had barricaded himself into a nearby bar with a rifle, but police denied these allegations. Police also denied rumours of a shooting at a nearby shopping centre.
Interior Minister Forn said the Festa Major de Gracia, an iconic Barcelona celebration that began on Tuesday and was slated to end next Monday, would be canceled.
The Festa, during which streets of the Gracia neighbourhood are brightly decorated by residents, was celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Metro and train stations in the area were closed to the public, while people in the area of the attack were asked to stay where they are until the police can indicate an exit route.