Thursday 24 May 2018

Paris terror attacks suspect 'was planning new atrocities'

Crowds gather to pay a silent tribute to the victims of the terror attacks at the Place de la Republique, in Paris. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Crowds gather to pay a silent tribute to the victims of the terror attacks at the Place de la Republique, in Paris. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Captured: Isil terror attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam. Photo: PA

David Chazan

The prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was plotting fresh atrocities in Brussels with a new extremist network when he was captured, the Belgian foreign minister said yesterday.

"He was ready to restart something in Brussels," Didier Reynders said. "We found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons, in the first investigations and we have found a new network around him in Brussels."

Abdeslam, believed to be the only direct participant in the Paris attacks still alive, is in a Belgian prison, charged with terrorism offences and murder. The 26-year-old French Moroccan was cornered on Friday in the mainly immigrant Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, where he grew up.

He is expected to be extradited to France within three months.

Mr Reynders said a much bigger network than initially believed was involved in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November.

"We were searching for around 10 people with heavy weapons (but) we have far more than that since November and not only in Belgium but also in France. For the moment, we have found more than 30 people involved with the terrorist attacks in Paris, but we are sure there are others," he said.

French investigators reportedly found crates of mobile phones and traces of explosives at locations around Paris after the attacks.

They concluded Isil was assembling the machinery to strike in Europe on a far larger scale than they had suspected and the terrorists had been trained to make suicide vests and carry out coordinated bombings and shootings to hinder the police response.

The immediate focus of the investigation has shifted to two known fugitives believed to be armed and dangerous and still at large despite a four-month international manhunt.

Mohamed Abrini (31), a Belgian of Moroccan origin, allegedly played a key role in planning the attacks. Two days before the massacres, he was filmed with Abdeslam at a service station on the Brussels-Paris motorway.

The pair made two round-trips between the cities to rent hideouts, accompanied by Abdeslam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up. Abrini is a childhood friend of Abdeslam.

A second suspect known under the alias of Soufiane Kayal showed false identity papers at the border between Austria and Hungary when travelling with Abdeslam on September 9. Another accomplice, captured with Abdeslam and also charged with terrorism, entered Europe among migrants via the Greek island of Leros using a forged Syrian passport.

Meanwhile, Abdeslam's lawyer, Sven Mary, said he would sue the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, for breaching confidentiality rules by revealing that Abdeslam had said he was to have blown himself up at the Stade de France, but "backed out".

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