Paris attack manhunt spreads into Germany; no sign of chief suspect


The manhunt for people involved in the Paris terrorists attacks saw more detentions Tuesday, with German authorities taking seven people into custody, but later saying that they did not appear to be directly linked.

The main suspect being sought is Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman and Belgium resident who is said to possibly have been an eighth attacker in the shootings and bombings that left at least 129 people dead and 352 injured in Paris on Friday.

So far, 117 victims of 17 different nationalities have been identified, while 221 injured people are still hospitalized, the AFP news agency quoted French ministers as saying.

Seven attackers died in the violence, including Abdeslam’s brother.

Abdeslam, who remains at large, had been in Germany and Austria about two months ago, a spokesman of the Interior Ministry in Vienna said.

On Tuesday, seven people were taken into custody near the western German city of Aachen, in the town of Alsdorf near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands.

“We received information that one of the fugitives connected with Paris could be staying in our area,” a police spokesman said.

But Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere later said that there was no “very close link” between the detentions and the Paris attacks.

Abdeslam, for his part, was picked up in Paris overnight into Saturday by two men who then dropped him off in the Belgian capital Brussels, the Belga news agency quoted judicial sources as saying.

The two men, 27-year-old Mohammed Amri and 21-year-old Hamza Attouh, have been arrested in Belgium on terrorism charges. They gave conflicting information on where in Brussels Abdeslam had been dropped off, Belga wrote.

The Paris attacks were not discussed during the trip and Amri and Attouh did not see any weapons, Amri’s lawyer told the Belgian news agency.

Police in Paris have recovered a black Renault Clio rental car that was rented by Abdeslam, Belgian and French media reported Tuesday. His bank card was also used to book two hotel rooms in the Paris suburbs on the day before the attack, AFP wrote.

Another of his brothers, Mohamed Abdeslam, called on Salah to turn himself in so that “judicial authorities can shed light on this story,” in an interview with the broadcaster BFMTV.

There are also questions about whether another attacker may be on the run, after investigators found three Kalashnikov rifles in a car they believe was used by Abdeslam and his brother, AFP reported.

Neighbouring France and Belgium are on high alert, with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls telling the France Inter broadcaster on Tuesday that his country could face another terrorist attack “at any time.”

His Socialist government has pledged to raise spending on national security, increase airstrikes against Islamist strongholds in Syria, and adopt a national security package in response to the deadliest attack the nation has faced since World War II.

New legislation – expected to propose quicker deportation for suspect foreigners and the possibility to strip double passport holders convicted of terrorism of their French nationality – is going to be presented to parliament on Thursday, Valls said.

“In order to safeguard the security of French people, sometimes a certain number of our liberties have to be curtailed,” the prime minister warned.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the France Info broadcaster that a total of 115,000 policemen and soldiers had been mobilized following the multi-pronged attacks on Paris, for which the Islamic State extremist group has claimed responsibility.

France has urged greater efforts from EU partners and the rest of the international community against the Islamic State.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hollande at the Elysee palace on Tuesday and pledged closer US cooperation, after saying upon arrival in Paris that the terrorist group and all who share its “despicable ideology” would be defeated.

In response to the attacks, France has also for the first time ever invoked the European Union’s mutual defence clause, which states that EU countries have “an obligation of aid and assistance” if a member state is “the victim of armed aggression on its territory.”

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at an EU meeting in Brussels that his country expects assistance from other EU countries for military operations it is carrying out in Syria and elsewhere. He argued that “France can no longer do everything.”