Saturday 22 October 2016

EU agrees new plan for 'systematic control of its borders'

Leigh Thomas

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Police watched the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks being led by a woman into an apartment the evening before both died there during a raid by special forces, a police source said yesterday.

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After a tip-off from Morocco that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of Islamic State's most high-profile European recruits, was in France, police honed in on Hasna Aitboulahcen, a woman already under surveilla nce who was known to have links to him.

Police had been tapping her phone as part of a drugs investigation and tracked her to the St. Denis suburb north of Paris, also home to the stadium where three suicide bombers blew themselves up during last Friday's attacks that killed 130 people.

They watched the 26-year-old woman take Abaaoud into the St. Denis building on Tuesday evening. In the early hours of Wednesday, police launched an assault that lasted seven hours.

Abaaoud, 28, and Aitboulahcen, who may be his cousin, both died during the gun battle in which French police commandos fired more than 5,000 shots. A third person, who has yet to be identified, died with them.

One of the police sources also said Abaaoud had been caught on camera at a suburban metro station, after the shootings and at cafes and restaurants in central Paris but while a massacre in the Bataclan concert hall was still underway.

He was seen on closed circuit TV at the Croix de Chavaux station in Montreuil, not far from where one of the cars used in the attacks was found, the source said.

A week after the Paris attacks, French nationals were in the firing line again in Mali when Islamist militants stormed a hotel in the capital Bamako leaving at least 27 people dead.

In response to the Paris attacks, French police carried out raids across the country for a fifth day overnight on Thursday.

So far, police have searched 793 premises, held 90 people for questioning, put 164 under house arrest and recovered 174 weapons including assault rifles and other guns, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Police searched a mosque in Brest in western France early on Friday. Its imam, Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, who has condemned the Paris attacks, achieved notoriety this year for telling children they could be turned into pigs for listening to music.

In an unusual step, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) - the main umbrella group for mosque associations - and several of its member groups, urged their imams to denounce the attacks in Friday sermons and distributed suggested texts.

Since the attacks, requests for information about joining the French army have surged. Colonel Herve Chene, head of airforce recruitment, said the numbers of people visiting his unit's hiring centres had tripled since last Friday.

Abaaoud was spotted on the metro station CCTV tape at 10:14 p.m. (2114 GMT) on Friday last week after the initial wave of attacks. Seven assailants died and a suspected eighth person, Salah Abdeslam, is still on the run.

While quickly tracking Abaaoud down will be seen as a major success for French authorities, his presence in Paris will focus more attention on the difficulty European security services have in monitoring the continent's borders.

EU interior and justice ministers in Brussels on Friday pledged solidarity with France in the wake of the attacks and agreed a series of new measures on surveillance, border checks and gun control.

The 28 governments agreed to speed new legislation to share air passengers' data, curb firearms trafficking and ensure closer checks on EU citizens crossing Europe's external borders.

France has called for changes to the EU's Schengen border-free travel zone to make it tougher to travel across Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people have reached Europe as Syrian refugees in recent months, including at least one person using a passport found at the scene of Friday's attacks.

France has called for a global coalition to defeat the group and has launched air strikes on Raqqa, the de-facto Islamic State capital in northern Syria, since the weekend.

Russia has also targeted the city in retribution for the downing of a Russian airliner last month that killed 224.

Irish Independent

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