Paris suspect still at large amid Belgian police operation


A suspect in this weekend’s Paris terrorist attacks remains at large despite a Belgian police operation seeking his capture, local media reported Monday.

Prosecutors told the Belga news agency that a large number of officers had been deployed to the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek Monday morning to arrest Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman born in Brussels who is wanted in connection with the Paris attacks, in which 129 died.

One person was detained during the Molenbeek operation, but prosecutors later told the RTBF broadcaster that this was only an “administrative arrest.” Abdeslam was not taken into custody, according to several Belgian media outlets.

Abdeslam is the brother of Brahim Abdeslam, a 31-year-old suicide bomber who died in Paris.

Salah Abdeslam might also have been an attacker, according to media reports. He was stopped by police near the Belgian border on Saturday, but not detained, the newspaper Le Monde reported.

Brahim Abdeslam was friends with a Belgian man who could be behind the Paris attacks, the Belgian newspapers De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad reported on Monday.

That man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also suspected of having been the mastermind of a foiled plot to kill police officers in Belgium in January.

The 28-year-old Abbaoud fought in Syria and was notoriously recorded in a 2014 video driving a car dragging mutilated bodies. He has long been on the run.

A third Abdeslam brother had previously also been detained in Molenbeek, but his lawyer told Belga on Monday that he had been released and was no longer a suspect.

The attacks in Paris on Friday also left some 350 injured.

They were “organized, thought out, planned out of Syria,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Monday.

The Islamic State extremist group, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the killings. France on Sunday launched airstrikes against the militants’ stronghold of al-Raqqa in Syria.

The French Defence Ministry said 10 French planes had dropped 20 bombs, destroying a commando position where munitions were stored, as well as a training camp for terrorists.

In France, meanwhile, police carried out 168 raids overnight into Monday, with 23 people detained and 31 weapons recovered – including a rocket launcher – Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. More than 100 people have been placed under house arrest, he added.

The France Info broadcaster reported that only one of the searches was directly linked to the Paris attacks.

“This is only the beginning. These actions will continue,” Cazeneuve said of the police action. “Those who attack the republic will be caught and we will be relentless.”

Valls warned that European countries face an ongoing risk of terrorist attacks.

“We know that operations were being prepared and are still being prepared, not only against France, but against other European countries,” he said.

“This generation will have to live a long time with this terrorist threat. We must live, and live fully, but under this threat,” he added.

France, countries across Europe and participants at the G20 summit in Turkey marked a minute of silence at 1100 GMT in memory of the Paris attacks’ victims. In the French capital, some people clapped after the minute of silence and sang the national anthem.

Authorities believe that three coordinated teams of terrorists armed with Kalashnikov rifles and explosive vests carried out the attacks on Friday evening, targeting the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France national sports stadium, and several restaurants and bars.

Five of the seven dead attackers have now been identified, Molins said in a statement issued on Monday.

Fingerprints from one of the suicide bombers at the Bataclan concert hall matched those taken in Greece in October from a refugee who was using a Syrian passport with the name of Ahmad Al Mohammad, 25, the statement said.

It also noted, however, that the authenticity of the passport still had to be verified.

Another Bataclan suicide bomber has been identified as the Paris-born Frenchman Samy Amimour, 28. He was known to law enforcement for links to terrorists and was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in 2013, the statement said.

It added that three of his relatives are in custody for questioning.