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Sunday 18 August 2019

Hunt for second fugitive involved in Paris terror attacks

A woman and child kneel in front of the Carillon restaurant one of the targets of Friday's attacks in Paris (AP)
A woman and child kneel in front of the Carillon restaurant one of the targets of Friday's attacks in Paris (AP)

French authorities are hunting for a second fugitive directly involved in the Paris terror attacks, while the French government made an unprecedented demand that its EU allies support its military action against Islamic State.

The disclosure of a second possible fugitive came on the same day that France launched new air strikes on the militants' stronghold in Syria, that Vladimir Putin ordered a Russian military cruiser to co-operate with the French on fighting IS in Syria, and that US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted at a possible upcoming cease-fire in Syria.

French and Belgian police were already looking for key suspect Salah Abdeslam, 26, whose suicide-bomber brother Brahim died in the attacks on Friday night that killed at least 129 people and left over 350 wounded in Paris.

Islamic state militants have claimed responsibility for the carnage.

Seven attackers died that night - three around the national stadium, three inside the Bataclan concert hall, and one at a restaurant nearby.

A team of gunmen also opened fire at nightspots in one of Paris' trendiest neighbourhoods.

However, three French officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday that an analysis of the attacks showed that one person directly involved in them was unaccounted for. The second fugitive has not been identified.

The French government had earlier invoked a never-before-used article of the EU's Lisbon Treaty obliging members of the 28-nation bloc to give "aid and assistance by all the means in their power" to a member country that is "the victim of armed aggression on its territory".

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said all 27 of France's EU partners responded positively.

He said: "Every country said 'I am going to assist, I am going to help'."

Arriving for talks in Brussels, Greek defence minister Panagiotis Kammenos told reporters that the Paris attacks were a game-changer for the bloc.

"This is September 11 for Europe," he said.

Paris police said 16 people had been arrested in the region in relation to the deadly attacks, and police have carried out 104 raids since a state of emergency was declared on Saturday.

A French military spokesman said the latest air strikes in Islamic State's de-facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa destroyed a command post and training camp.

Nato allies were sharing intelligence and working closely with France, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

In Moscow, Mr Putin ordered the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start co-operating with the French military on operations in Syria.

His order came as Russia's defence minister said its war planes fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces. IS has positions in Aleppo province, while the Nusra militant group is in Idlib.

Moscow has vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up a Russian passenger plane over Egypt last month, killing 224 people, mostly Russian tourists. IS has also claimed responsibility for that attack.

Meanwhile in France, Mohamed Abdeslam, another brother of fugitive Salah Abdeslam, urged his brother to turn himself in.

Mohamed Abdeslam, who was arrested and questioned following the attack before being released on Monday, told French TV BFM that his brother was devout but showed no signs of being a radical Islamist.

He said Salah Abdeslam prayed and attended a mosque occasionally, but also dressed in jeans and pullovers.

In Belgium, two men admitted driving to France to pick up Salah Abdeslam early on Saturday.

Mohammed Amri, 27, denies any involvement in the Paris attacks and says he went to Paris to collect his friend, according to his defence lawyer Xavier Carrette.

Hamza Attou, 21, says he went along to keep Mr Amri company, his lawyer Carine Couquelet said. Both are being held on charges of terrorist murder and conspiracy.

Belgian media reported that Mr Amri and Mr Attou were being investigated as potential suppliers of the suicide bombs used in the attacks, since ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser that can be used to make explosives, was discovered in a search of their residence.

Their defence lawyers said they could not confirm those reports.

Salah and Brahim Abdeslam booked a hotel in the south-eastern Paris suburb of Alfortville and rented a house in the north-eastern suburb of Bobigny several days before the attacks, a French judicial official said.

Austria's Interior Ministry said Salah Abdeslam, the suspected driver of one group of gunmen carrying out the attacks, entered the country about two months ago with two companions that were not identified.

After the attacks, Abdeslam slipped through France's fingers, with French police accidentally permitting him to cross into Belgium on Saturday.

In other developments, German police said five people with possible links to the Paris attacks were arrested on Tuesday near the western city of Aachen, but later released.

Another Belgian car with a shattered front passenger window was found in northern Paris - the third vehicle police identified as having possible links to the attacks.

Belgium was also deploying 300 extra soldiers to help provide security in major cities.

Mr Kerry flew to France as a gesture of solidarity and met Mr Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday.

He said a cease-fire between Syria's government and the opposition - which would allow nations supporting Syria's various factions to focus more on IS - could be just weeks away, describing it as potentially a "gigantic step" toward deeper international co-operation.

Standing next to Mr Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Mr Kerry said the carnage in the French capital, along with recent attacks in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey, made it clear that more pressure must be brought to bear on Islamic State extremists.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower shut down again on Tuesday, after opening for just a day, and heavily armed troops patrolled the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.

French police are circulating a photo of one of the suicide attackers who targeted the French national stadium, and have appealed for information from anyone who recognises him.

National police published a photo of the suicide bomber on its Twitter account. A total of seven attackers died in the massacre, but only five have been publicly identified so far.

PA Media

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