Hijacker of gas-canister truck in Barcelona had spent €20k partying

The suspect stole the vehicle on Tuesday morning before driving it the wrong way up a city freeway

For a 10-minute period on Tuesday, Barcelona saw the worst police chase that the authorities can remember. It started when a 32-year-old man took advantage of a momentary lapse by a delivery driver, stealing his truck loaded with butane gas canisters and driving it erratically for three kilometers through the heart of the city, in one of the Catalan capital’s busiest tourist areas.

The driver of the truck on the right was arrested after giving chase.
The driver of the truck on the right was arrested after giving chase.Carles Ribas

Police officers were eventually forced to fire their weapons at the man in a bid to make him stop, and finally managed to do so when he was headed the wrong way up the access ramp onto the Ronda Litoral freeway. As for the motive, “there is no reasonable evidence” that the theft was an attempted terrorist attack, according to a regional police chief in Barcelona, Joan Carles Molinero.

The man, who is Swedish, gave no explanation to officers for his actions.

But on Wednesday it emerged that the man had spent €20,000 on alcohol, drugs and prostitutes the night before the incident, according to police sources. The binge was in the company of other Swedes who he had met in the city. The man had arrived in Barcelona on February 20, and had his hotel room pre-paid. But he never ended up sleeping there, given that he was out on the town on Monday night, and then on Tuesday morning ended up in police custody after stealing the vehicle.

At no time did the police get the sensation that the truck was aiming for anyone Police chief Joan Carles Molinero

The suspect, whose initials are J. R. B., had smashed the truck into a number of other vehicles during the chase, but was able to exit the truck unharmed. Three officers were needed to bring the man under control. “He actively resisted arrest,” Molinero explained.

The authorities are currently trying to find out if there is any information about the suspect outside of Spain.

J. R. B. is currently being held in the psychiatric ward as the Hospital del Mar, and police have been unable to interview him on doctor’s orders. When arrested, the man was "in an altered state, which makes us think this is an unstable person," the regional interior chief, Jordi Jané, explained in a press conference on Wednesday morning.

Shots were fired on seven occasions in a bid to make the man stop. The bullets ended up in the vehicle’s gas tank, tires and windscreen. The man, who was not armed, escaped injury, but was later taken to hospital for a physical and psychological examination.

“We should point out just how dangerous this was for the city of Barcelona,” explained Molinero, “with a speeding truck loaded with flammable material.”

One woman was slightly injured after being struck by one of the tanks

The chase began at 10.30am, when the police saw the vehicle traveling at high speed through the Paral·lel avenue, shedding its load of butane gas canisters along the way. Two officers attempted to intercept the truck at that point.

One of the policemen, who was traveling on a motorbike, managed to overtake him, and, wielding his service weapon, ordered him to stop. But the driver continued, passing by the Puerto de Barcelona, in Moll de la Fusta, a popular area for tourists.

The police then shot at the vehicle’s tires, but were still unable to stop it. As the truck collided with traffic-calming measures along the route, yet more canisters fell from the truck. One woman was slightly injured after being struck by one of the tanks.

When the vehicle got to Pau Vila square, a group of six regional police officers tried to intercept, but also failed. A number of people were on a pedestrian crossing at that point, and had to jump out of the way to avoid being run over. “At no time did the police get the sensation that the truck was aiming for anyone,” Molinero explained.

The truck then headed the wrong direction up Doctor Aiguader avenue, with other drivers having to dodge out of the way to avoid a collision. The vehicle did, however, end up crashing into several cars. Along the route, around half of the 90 gas canisters ended up on the street. The police managed to recover them all.

In total, three people were left with light injuries: a police officer and two passers-by.

The area where the truck finally came to rest, on the freeway access ramp, soon attracted plenty of curious onlookers, who were keen to catch a glimpse of the bullet holes in the truck’s windscreen.

English version by Simon Hunter.


More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS