Wednesday 21 August 2019

Fugitive stopped by police three times before he disappeared

Salah Abdeslam
Salah Abdeslam

Gordon Rayner in London and Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

Police now believe not one but two Paris attackers may be on the run, as it also emerged that Salah Abdeslam was stopped by police three times before he was able to disappear.

Several witnesses have reported seeing three men inside a black Seat Leon used by the terrorists during gun attacks on bars and restaurants. The only two occupants accounted for are Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up outside a cafe.

Hamza Attou (21) and Mohammed Amri (27) were among seven men arrested in Belgium over the weekend, five of whom were later released without charge. Attou and Amri have reportedly confessed to driving Salah Abdeslam - currently the subject of an international manhunt - back to Belgium after the attacks.

Police also found chemicals that can be used to make bombs when they raided their addresses, though the two men have insisted they bought them purely as garden fertiliser.

Attou and Amri were in a VW Golf with Abdeslam when it was stopped by police at Cambrai, near France's border with Belgium, on Saturday morning, before being allowed to go on their way because none were at that stage on wanted lists.

Attou and Amri have now reportedly told police they were also stopped on two other occasions, though details of where and when are as yet unknown.

Belgian newspapers suggested they have been charged with 129 "terrorist assassinations" and participation in terrorist activities, though the prosecutor's office would not confirm this. A total of 129 people died in the co-ordinated attacks on Paris.

The two men left the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek at 2am on Saturday after receiving a call from Abdeslam. They picked him up in Barbes, about a mile from the Bataclan concert hall, at 5am and drove him back to Molenbeek.


They deny any knowledge of the massacre, and say Abdeslam said little during the car journey. "We did not talk much, he was a little stressed," they are reported as saying.

Amri was the driver of the Golf, according to the Belgian newspaper La Libre, but the vehicle belongs to Attou. Amri's solicitor, Xavier Carrette, said the only thing he admits "is having been in France to pick up a friend".

They were reportedly not the first people approached by Abdeslam for a lift. Another acquaintance of the Abdeslam brothers, 23-year-old Amir, said a friend had called him on Friday night asking him to drive the 180 miles to Paris to pick up Salah Abdeslam. He was told Abdeslam offered to pay for the fuel, but Amir did not want to run up the mileage on his leased car.

The brother of Salah Abdeslam has called for him to turn himself in. Mohamed Abdeslam says his brother was devout but showed no signs of being a radical Islamist.

Mohamed said: "Of course I call on him to turn himself over to the police. The best would be for him to give himself up so that justice can shed all the light on this."

Mohamed was arrested and questioned following the attack and was released on Monday. He says his brother prayed and attended a mosque occasionally but dressed in jeans and pullovers and showed no signs of being a radical.

Meanwhile, yesterday police found a third car used in the attacks, a black Renault Clio abandoned in Place Albert Khan, near the scene of the restaurant shootings. It had been hired in Belgium by Salah Abdeslam. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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