Five German women have been arrested after their organised flash mob sparked a terror alert in a Spanish tourist resort when it was mistaken for an ISIS attack.
The group–aged between 20 and 25–had armed themselves with selfie sticks and tripods as they pretended to chase a celebrity through the Costa Brava resort of Platja d’Aro after organising the get-together on social media.
But locals and other tourists mistook the ill-advised game for a terrorist attack as they heard shouting in a foreign language and confused the selfie sticks for guns.
Dramatic footage captured hundreds of people running for safety, knocking over tables and chairs in their rush to get away as they abandoned restaurant meals and brought traffic to a stop in the centre of the resort–originally a small fishing village but now a major coastal resort popular mainly with Catalans and northern Europeans.
Some shops even closed and offered refuge to panicked locals during the initial minutes of the scare and several people are said to have been treated for panic attacks.
Police and emergency services coordinators took to Twitter to try to calm nerves and rule out fears of a terror attack after it became apparent the blame lay at the door of a group of German tourists thought to be staying on a nearby campsite.
The incident happened around 10pm on Tuesday night in the central S’Agaro avenue near the tourist office.
A spokesman for the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force confirmed this morning that five German nationals had been arrested.
He described them as monitors of a group of visitors taking part in a summer camp and said he believed they were all women.
This afternoon the group–who have allegedly since apologised for their actions–were charged with public order offences and will appear in court later on Wednesday.
The police spokesman added: ‘Our information is eight people were treated at a local health centre, two for anxiety attacks and six for bruising and three people were taken to a nearby hospital including one who was suffering tachycardia.
‘It’s obvious this flash mob got out of hand. Performances of this kind are not advisable with things the way they are at the moment.
‘The five people arrested are all Germans and were here in Spain as monitors of a group.’
Albert Malla, an art director caught up in the drama, was one of those who spread panic on social media by wrongly identifying the performance artists as terrorists.
He posted a message on his Facebook after taking refuge inside a clothes shop: ‘At this very moment a man armed with a gun has fired a shot in the main street causing terror among hundreds of people who were on bar terraces and in the shops and who have started running terrified in the opposite direction.
‘We are locked in with a group of people at a Mango store. Police cars have just gone by. We don’t have any more information at this moment in time.’
Ignasi Sibils, who was dining with his wife and baby nephew in a restaurant gripped by panic, added: ‘We could hear the police and ambulance sirens heading towards the spot where the gunfire had apparently gone off.
‘We waited several anguishing minutes before the owner of the restaurant told us the local police had confirmed to him nothing had actually happened.’
Local reports said cars began to do U-turns in the main road near the spot where the flash mob started and accelerate in the opposite direction after a woman on a motorbike drove by screaming she had seen a man shooting.
Catalunya Emergencies, an emergency response coordination centre which received more than 100 calls alerting them to the drama from those caught up in it, tweeted: ‘Important message. In Platja d’Aro there have been incidents in the public highway because of a flash mob or something similar which has provoked a stampede. No shots have been fired.’
Regional police force Mossos d’Esquadra followed with a social media alert which confirmed: ‘The Platja d’Aro incident is a false alarm. Don’t spread false rumours which are not contrasted with official sources.’
Spain is currently on high anti-terror alert–level four out of a threat level scale of one to five–and law enforcement agencies have prepared for a repeat of the recent atrocities of Nice and Munich.
Local councillor Dolors Guirado said the incident had provoked a ‘horrendous panic’.
National Police took to Twitter to broadcast a ‘Warning to idiots’, stating: ‘Simulating an attack and faking a terror alert can be a crime’ and warning it carried a three-month prison sentence.
Local reports said as many as 200 people had taken part in the flash mob, the name given to a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time before dispersing.
Flash mobs are normally organised via social media or viral emails for the purpose of entertainment, satire and artistic expression.
A local town hall source said: ‘When someone runs, the rest tend to run as well and it’s something that’s very difficult to stop.’
Respected regional daily La Vanguardia said: ‘More than 200 people, brought together over social media by two German tourists, staged a performance last night in Platja d’Aro.
‘It should have been fun. The situation consisted in simulating that a famous person was fleeing from the tabloid press. The supposed paparazzis began to run after their target with selfie sticks, cameras and a lot of shouting.
‘The scene caused a stampede in which hundreds of people fled without knowing why, encouraged by the shouts of other people who said shots were being fired in the centre.’
One source said: ‘The alarm wasn’t real but the fear and the panic caused in a resort packed with tourists who were enjoying an evening stroll through the centre was.’