Paris Terror Attacks: How a Belgian parking ticket led to international manhunt for more 'plotters' in attacks
French police had believed only seven terrorists took part in the Paris attacks, and that they were all dead, until they searched a VW Polo abandoned near the scene
Published 16/11/2015 | 08:49
A Belgian parking ticket found inside a rented Volkswagen Polo turned an investigation of seven dead suicide bombers into an international manhunt for a cell of up 20 terrorists involved in the Paris attacks.
In the hours after the wave of co-ordinated attacks that left 129 people dead on Friday night, French police reassured Parisians that all of the Isil terrorists had either blown themselves up or been killed.
But the investigation was turned on its head when officers examined the Belgian-registered black VW Polo left parked near the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people had been murdered.
A parking ticket inside the car was from the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, notorious as a crucible of Islamic fanaticism.
It led to the discovery that the car had been rented by the brother of one of the dead terrorists, and the realisation that more jihadis may have been involved.
By Sunday night seven men were in custody, another was being urgently hunted and intelligence agencies fear up to five more men could be involved.
The Belgian connection
As well as the VW Polo, police found a black Belgian-registered Seat Leon abandoned in the suburb of Montreuil, three miles from the locations of the attacks. Inside the Seat were three Kalashnikov assault rifles, five magazines of bullets and 11 empty magazines.
A third Belgian car, a grey VW Golf, was stopped by French police at Cambrai, near the Belgian border, on Saturday morning, but police found nothing suspicious, took the occupants’ names and allowed them to carry on.
Computer checks on his name showed that he had been one of the three men inside the VW Golf stopped at Cambrai.
Belgian police were immediately alerted, and at 4pm on Saturday three men were arrested near Brussels’ Osseghem station.
Armed police operations continued on Sunday, leading to four further arrests and the seizure of the VW Golf.
Two of the seven suicide bombers from Friday’s attacks were Frenchmen living in Brussels, police said, and one of the seven men being held was also French and living in the Belgian capital.
The Abdeslam brothers
Salah Abdeslam, 26, became Europe’s most wanted man when French police issued an international arrest warrant for him, warning the public that he is dangerous and therefore “do not intervene yourself”.
The 5ft 7in tall suspect had slipped through the fingers of French police when they stopped a VW Golf in which he and two alleged accomplices were driving back to Belgium on Saturday morning, and who were allowed to go on their way.
He and his two brothers appear to be at the heart of the terrorist cell behind the attacks. One brother, Ibrahim, 31, blew himself up at Le Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on Friday, and the third, Mohammed, was one of the seven men arrested in Belgium.
Salah Abdeslam had rented the VW Polo that led police to the cell, while Ibrahim had rented the Seat Leon used in the attacks.
On Sunday police in Belgium were granted another 24 hours to question Mohammed Abdeslam.
The 20 plotters
With seven suicide bombers dead, seven others under arrest and one man on the run, 15 men have so far been linked to the Paris attacks,
But Belgian intelligence officials have suggested that up to 20 people may have been part of the terrorist cell that planned the attacks, meaning a total of six people could be on the run.
According to the respected Belgian business newspaper L’Echo, the Belgian security services estimate that 20 people participated “near or far” in the Paris attacks.
The Syrian passport
A Syrian passport found beside one of the Paris suicide bombers has raised the possibility one of the attackers may have masqueraded as an asylum seeker to infiltrate Europe.
The passport found after the attack at France’s national stadium was used to enter Greece less than two months ago along a route used by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants this year.
The French authorities said the passport was fake. Bearing the name of Ahmad Almohammad, 25, it was used by an asylum seeker who registered on the island of Leros on October 3.
He reached Leros after his makeshift boat from Turkey carrying around 70 migrants foundered off the coast and he was picked up by Greek coastguards.
He then reportedly applied for asylum in Serbia on October 7 before travelling on to Croatia, Hungary, Austria, and then, it is believed, France.
The owner was allowed to proceed through Serbia and Croatia because he passed what is essentially the only test in place - he had no international arrest warrant against him, police in both states said Sunday.
Protothema, a Greek news website, on Sunday claimed to have recovered a ferry ticket bearing the name Ahmad Almohammad and a second with the name Mohammed Almohammad.
The ferry travelled from Kalymonos to Pireus and then Athens, it was claimed.
The site alleged that Greek customs were insufficiently staffed on October 3 to conduct detailed checks on the authenticity of the Syrian passport.
However, the bearer of Ahmad Almohammad’s passport did give his fingerprints, meaning that these can be cross-checked with those of the suicide bomber.
The passport could also be a fake or have been used fraudulently.
A US intelligence official told CBS News it did not contain the correct numbers for a legitimate Syrian passport and the picture did not match the name.
The bomber trained in a Syrian terror camp
A French suicide bomber who blew himself up during the attack on the Bataclan concert hall is believed to have trained at an Isil terrorist camp in Syria.
Ismael Omar Mostefai made contact with the extremists in Syria after travelling through Turkey in late 2013.
The 29-year-old was identified by DNA taken from one of his fingers found at the scene of the deadliest of the Paris attacks.
Mostefai is thought to have returned early in 2014.
His DNA was already in France’s national DNA databank because he had been arrested and convicted of a string of petty crimes while growing up in the Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, although he was never jailed.
He was flagged up as a potential security threat in 2010 after being radicalised in Chartres, a cathedral town south-west of Paris, reportedly by a Belgian imam. Mostefai moved to Chartres to join one of his brothers who ran a shisha bar there, a municipal official said.
He lived in a modest terraced house with his wife and daughter, his parents, two of his brothers and his two sisters, but left for Algeria in 2012. His trace was picked up when he entered Turkey the next year.
His brother Houari Mostefai, 34, was arrested and questioned after turning himself in to police on Saturday when he learned that his brother was one of the attackers. Several other family members were also taken into custody.