Monday 23 September 2019

Paris Terror Attacks: Police let suspect slip away from road block

Hunt for 'Europe's most wanted man'

People mourn the dead at a makeshift memorial near the Bataclan theatre
People mourn the dead at a makeshift memorial near the Bataclan theatre
French Police handout of Salah Abdeslam, (26) who is wanted by police over the Paris terror attacks
Flowers are layed outside one of the restaurants that was attacked in Paris where over a hundred people lost their lives
People mourn the dead outside one of the restaurants targeted last Friday by terrorists

Gordon Rayner, Ben Farmer and  Henry Samuel

An international manhunt is under way for one of the suspects in the Paris terrorist attacks after it emerged that French police let him slip through their fingers in the hours after the atrocity.

Salah Abdeslam, whose brother Ibrahim was one of seven Isil suicide bombers in Friday's massacre, was in a car stopped by police in Cambrai, near the Belgian border, on Saturday, but was allowed to proceed after nothing suspicious was found.

It was only later, when a VW Polo used by the terrorists was linked to him, that police realised their mistake.

Last night Abdeslam (26) became Europe's most wanted man after France issued an international arrest warrant for him, warning the public "absolutely" not to approach him.

A third brother, Mohammed, was one of seven alleged plotters arrested in Belgium.

The Belgian security services believe a total of 20 people may have been involved in the plot, meaning five others besides Abdeslam are on the run.

France responded to the attacks last night as 10 fighter jets dropped 20 bombs on targets in the Isil stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, the French Defence Ministry said.

The strikes destroyed a jihadi training camp and a munitions dump.

British Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he still wanted to extend air strikes into Syria as he began a co-ordinated diplomatic attempt with Barack Obama to persuade Russian president Vladimir Putin to back their efforts to destroy Isil.

Meanwhile, a new security crackdown will mean holidaymakers heading for the UK face car boot searches, while border force interceptor ships will patrol the shorelines to prevent entry by jihadists.

Thousands of British troops are on standby to take to the streets in the event of a Paris-style terror attack, while an extra 2,000 spies are to be recruited at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ in the largest expansion of the British security and intelligence services since the 7/7 attacks in London a decade ago.

As efforts to identify all 132 victims of the attacks continued, the hunt for remaining members of the terrorist cell focused on Belgium, where at least three French nationals believed to be involved in the plot were living.

French police admitted that Salah Abdeslam could have been held by them as he and two alleged accomplices headed for the Belgian border on Saturday morning.

Their grey VW Golf was stopped by police in Cambrai, but nothing suspicious was found and after their names had been taken they were allowed to continue.

Later in the day, police discovered that a Belgian-registered VW Polo found abandoned near the Bataclan, and identified as being used by the terrorists, had been rented by Abdeslam, and it was only then that they realised he had been within their grasp.

A spokesman for the Paris prosecutor's office said: "A person who rented a vehicle implicated in the attacks was subject to a road check in Cambrai [northern France] on Saturday at 9.10am on the A2 motorway to Belgium."

The car was later seized at Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a suburb of Brussels, on Saturday afternoon.

A Seat Leon car found with Kalashnikov rifles inside had been rented by his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on Friday night, severely injuring one person.

Meanwhile, Tim Ramadan, who works with the Syria-based group 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently', said that earlier this year he overheard foreign fighters plotting a "huge" terror attack in Paris from an internet cafe in Raqqa.

He said the man he overheard used the nom-de-guerre Abu Ibrahim al-Belgi - "father of Ibrahim, from Belgium" - and was speaking to a "commander" who gave the orders for an attack.

And tantalising clues about the extent of the plot came from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials said France and other countries had been warned last Thursday of an imminent attack.

An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that Isil group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting Isil in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi dispatch provided no details on when or where the attack would take place and a senior French security official said French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings "all the time" and "every day".

However, Iraqi intelligence officials claimed that they also warned France about specific details - among them that the attackers were trained for this operation and then sent back to France from Raqqa.

The officials also said that a sleeper cell in France then met the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan.

None of these details have been corroborated by officials of France or other Western intelligence agencies.

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