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Spain terror attacks 'totally different' to other deadly incidents in Europe

  • Spain launched a comprehensive counter terrorism operation on Friday after the country's deadliest terror attack in more than 13 years.
  • The attack in Spain's second largest city marked the sixth time in just over a year that a vehicle has been used by an Islamist terrorist to cause mass casualties in a European nation.
  • "Circumstances are very different compared to the 2004 Madrid Al-Qaeda bombings," Federico Santi, analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an email.

Europe has been the target of a series of deadly terror attacks in recent years, yet the nature of Thursday's attacks in Spain are "totally different", according to the managing director of a risk and security consultancy firm.

Spain launched a comprehensive counter terrorism operation on Friday after the country's deadliest terror attack in more than 13 years.

Police shot dead five would-be attackers on Friday after a suspected Islamist militant rammed a van into crowds in Barcelona, killing 14 people and wounding at least 100 others. So-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the incident though the claim has not yet been verified.

"It's totally different than Nice and Berlin because it is a much more sophisticated plot involving many more people which is extremely serious and extremely concerning," Olivier Guitta, managing director of GlobalStrat, told CNBC on Friday.

In July last year, authorities reported 84 people were killed in Nice, France after a truck ploughed through large crowds of people who had gathered to watch Bastille Day fireworks. Five months later, 12 people were killed when a tractor-trailer barreled into a crowd at a bustling Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.

Spain has been 'extremely active' in dismantling terror cells

The attack in Spain's second largest city marked the sixth time in just over a year that a vehicle has been used by an Islamist terrorist to cause mass casualties in a European nation. Similar major incidents have occurred in Germany, France, Britain and Sweden.

"Spain has not really been in the news headlines concerning counter terrorism (but) for some of us that follow exactly what has been going in Spain, it has been extremely active in terms of dismantling cells," he added.

Spanish officials are now looking for the driver of a van that plowed into pedestrians on Barcelona's busiest boulevard late Thursday afternoon.

The perpetrator was seen escaping on foot after deliberately driving into crowds of people on Las Ramblas, at around 5:30 p.m. local time, in what police suspect was one of a number of planned attacks. So far four men have been arrested as country-wide anti-terror operations remain underway.

Five men suspected of attempting to carry out a related attack were shot by police early Friday morning in the nearby town of Cambrils. The attackers, who were wearing explosives, were intercepted after driving a car into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring six others. Catalan officials have since suggested that the explosives were fakes.

One person was also killed in an explosion in a property in a separate town 100 miles southwest of Barcelona Wednesday night. Police sources say the residence was being used for preparing explosive devices.

Circumstances 'very different' to Madrid bombings

In 2004, a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist cell deployed explosives on Madrid commuter trains, killing 192 people and injuring thousands more.

"Circumstances are very different compared to the 2004 Madrid Al-Qaeda bombings," Federico Santi, analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an email.

Santi explained Spain's then Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, effectively lost his bid for re-election that year after he labeled Basque separatists responsible for the Madrid attack. He added that Aznar paid the political price for attempting to shield his administration from criticism over its support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

—CNBC's Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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