Shy, a good student and a car fanatic: suspected driver in Barcelona attack

Friends and neighbors describe Younes Abouyaaqoub, who was shot by police on Monday

Leaning on the railing of the bridge over the River Ter in Ripoll, a friend of Younes Abouyaaqoub, the chief suspect in the Barcelona attack who was killed by police on Monday in Subirats, says this of him: “A really great guy. Really, a great guy. I know it’s hard to believe, considering what he did. But it’s just that he really was.”

CCTV image of Younes Abouyaaqoub shortly after the attack in Barcelona.
CCTV image of Younes Abouyaaqoub shortly after the attack in Barcelona.AP

Four of Abouyaaqoub’s friends, who have crowded around, nod in agreement. They have just heard the news. “I still don’t believe it,” says one putting his sunglasses on his head. “I can’t believe it.” None of them want to be identified or photographed. “No, please,” another says, speaking for the rest who have all been close to Abouyaaqoub since he was a child. “There’s a lot of tension and we don’t want to worry our families.”

Born in 1995 in the Moroccan city of M’rirt, Younes Abouyaaqoub moved with his family to the Catalan town of Ripoll close to the French border when he was just four. He had four siblings. His brother, Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, was killed in a shoot out with police in Cambrils. His youngest sibling is just three.

The family lives on Santa Magdalena Street, which is currently being mobbed by journalists from all over the world, trying to get a picture of Abouyaaqoub’s mother, Ghanno Gaanimi, who went to Ripoll’s main square last Friday to make a public plea to her son to turn himself in. “She hasn’t slept since the attacks,” says one relative. “She just cries. She can’t even cook, so three other women are helping her.”

My parents always used him as an example, saying I should be like him... and now look Friend of Younes Abouyaaqoub

As a child, Abouyaaqoub went to the Joan Maragall Primary School in the center of Ripoll, along with many other immigrants, and had good grades, according to his friends. He then attended Abat Oliba High School and later pursued a degree in electrical engineering. “He was an exemplary student,” says one friend, who, along with others, describes him as “relaxed, pretty quiet and sort of shy,” adding with a chuckle, “He never got into trouble like us. My father always held him up as an example, telling me I should be more like Younes. And look what’s happened now …”

During the last few months of his life, Abouyaaqoub was on a permanent contract at an industrial welding and maintenance plant on the outskirts of Ripoll. “He was the highest earner among us,” says one friend.

When he wasn’t working, he devoted all his time to cars and soccer. His friends remember how he got his driver’s license as soon as he turned 18. “He had a Seat Ibiza and a BMW, which he sold after crashing it,” says one friend while laughing. “And a Citroen C5. He was into motor spinning.”

It must have been someone very clever that brainwashed him A friend of Younes Abouyaaqoub

As for soccer, he played for the 18 and under Ripoll CF team. “We also played on a dirt path along Barcelona Road,” says one who played with him in the team. “He was a total star.”

Abouyaaqoub’ friends saw him for the last time two weeks ago. “It must have been someone very clever that brainwashed him, but like very clever,” says one friend. “Because he was really a good guy. I can’t even imagine how his family must feel.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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