It all happened very fast. Barely 15 seconds went by from when Abdelouahab Taib shouted “Allah!” and tried to stab a female police officer with a 20-centimeter-long knife, and the woman – who was being chased by the would-be attacker into a narrow corridor in the precinct in Cornellà (Barcelona) – fired four shots at him from her service weapon, killing him. “I had the sensation that he was going to kill me and that this was a terrorist attack,” the officer said in her court statement, to which EL PAÍS has had access, and which details her account of what happened in the midst of an ongoing debate about the actions of the police.
The attack perpetrated on Monday morning by Taib, a 29-year-old Algerian, is being investigated by two different courts. Spain’s national High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, is tasked with determining whether the incident is, as the regional Mossos d’Esquadra initially contended, an “isolated terrorist attack.” The other is a local court in Cornellà, which is investigating the actions of the police. The lawyer acting for the family of the attacker has announced they will be taking legal action over the death.
He took a knife out from his waist, he raised it up and said Allah The police officer who shot the attacker
On Tuesday the court interviewed the two officers involved in the events: the female officer who shot the man, and the sergeant who was with her at the time and also tried to repel the attacker. The version that the two police officers have offered to the courts is essentially the same as the official version given by the Mossos, and, according to a number of sources, is backed up by the images captured by the security cameras in the Cornellà police station. Just before 6am, Taib rang the intercom at the precinct saying he wanted to “make an inquiry,” without specifying what he wanted. The female officer opened the door to let him in, and then opened the door to the booth she was in – an area with a glass front from which officers deal with members of the public for security reasons. “He said, ‘I was…’ He took a knife out from his waist, he raised it up and said ‘Allah’,” the officer stated, adding that she also heard other words in Arabic that she didn’t understand.
Taib “lunged” at her over the counter and tried to stab her with the knife. The officer “reacted by pushing back” from the table, and rolled back on the office chair she was sitting on, which had wheels. “The knife didn’t end up stuck in the table because it wasn’t headed toward the table, it was headed toward me,” she stated during the hour she spent in the presence of a judge, public prosecutor and defense attorney. “The knife was big, I can see it in my mind, it measured more than two hand widths,” she added.
After moving away on the chair, the officer ran out of the booth, entering a corridor and calling for help from the sergeant, who had just arrived to begin his morning shift. The assailant, she explained, ran after him. That was when both officers drew their weapons, pointing them at him. The sergeant stated that he shouted at the man to “freeze” on at least two occasions, but he took no notice. Both accounts added that “at no time did [Taib] lower the knife,” but instead he continued to brandish it in the air.
The two officers moved backwards, without taking their eyes of Taib, until he was a meter from the female mosso. That was when she fired the first shot, which did nothing to stop him advancing. Sources from the investigation have explained that there were four shots fired: three of them hit their target, in the man’s leg, arm and head. “If he had advanced, he would have put my physical safety in danger, as well as that of the sergeant and our colleagues who were getting changed [in the locker room connected to the corridor],” the mosso explained.
The knife was big, I can see it in my mind, it measured more than two hand widths
The police officer who shot the attacker
In his witness statement, the sergeant backed up the female officer’s version of events, saying that he saw that his life was in danger and if his colleague hadn’t fired, he would have done so “without a doubt.” He added: “She did it before me.” Another officer also gave a statement, explaining how he arrived in the corridor when Taib was already on the floor but was still moving. He bent down and took the knife from him.
Sources who have seen the security camera images of the incident say that the attack on the officer is “clear and obvious” for all to see, and that Taib was intending to take her life. This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that immediately afterwards he ran after her with the knife. The shots, however, were not recorded given that they were fired in the corridor, which has no cameras.
The Mossos d’Esquadra initially classed the incident as an “isolated terror attack.” However, personal details about Taib have since emerged, including the fact that he confessed to his Spanish wife that he was homosexual and that he was concerned how this would be viewed within the Muslim community. He had also recently divorced his wife and was due to move out of the family home, which is located just 150 meters from the Cornellà police station.
The sergeant stated that he shouted at the man to “freeze” on at least two occasions, but he took no notice
He had left a message for his partner reading: “I’m going, inshallah, to the Great Place up there,” as well as two other pieces of paper with texts in Arabic including phrases addressed to God in which he calls for help and for his blessing for what he is about to do. According to sources from the public prosecutor, Taib attacked the officer “with the intention of killing or dying while killing.” He was, the prosecutor claims, seeking a kind of religious salvation for what he considered to be the sin of being homosexual.
The attack came just three days after the first anniversary of the terrorist atrocities carried out in Catalonia in 2017, which saw 16 people killed in two separate incidents, the first in the central Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona and the second in the seaside town of Cambrils.
According to police sources, Taib had no prior criminal record and was not on the radar of the authorities in terms of terrorism or radicalization.
English version by Simon Hunter.