Second man sought as hunt for Paris attackers goes Europe-wide
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The investigation into Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris spread across Europe on Tuesday, with security services in a number of countries racing to round up suspects as it emerged that French police were hunting not for one but possibly two surviving attackers.
Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old, remained the focus of a Europe-wide manhunt that has focused on the rundown Brussels district of Molenbeek where he lived.
Authorities have established that Mr Abdeslam’s brother, Ibrahim, blew himself up on the Boulevard Voltaire outside the Comptoir Voltaire Cafe on Friday night.
But it emerged on Tuesday that they now believe another man, who has yet to be accounted for, may have accompanied them on a shooting rampage that evening in a black Seat Leon later found abandoned in a Parisian suburb.
Even as many details remained unclear, the frenetic hunt underlined the cross-border dimensions of a plot that has left a trail from Isis’ Syrian base to Greece’s easternmost islands and a rundown Brussels immigrant neighbourhood.
There were growing signs that accomplices helped Mr Abdeslam to flee France in the aftermath of the attacks. A Renault Clio linked to the assailants was found parked in Paris’ 18th district.
There were also indications that French authorities as far back as August had uncovered information that Isis was contemplating an attack on a concert hall.
A French jihadi who was captured by authorities on returning from Syria in August told them he had met there with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian, whom he said had instructed him to target a concert venue.
Mr Abaaoud has subsequently been linked to aborted attacks on France’s Thalys high-speed train and a church earlier this year. He was also previously involved in a robbery in Brussels with one of the Abdeslam brothers. “He is a man who has grown in importance [within Isis],” a French intelligence official said.
As the security services continued their work, there was a sense of panic and preparation around France for the possibility of further assaults. In a particularly dramatic step, the government has authorised the distribution of an antidote for nerve gas.
A written decree published on Sunday approved the use of atropine sulphate solution from France’s military stockpile “considering the risk of terrorist attacks” and noting that the country would soon be welcoming 120 heads of state for the Paris climate summit in the first two weeks in December.
A football match between Germany and the Netherlands was called off on Tuesday after authorities discovered a suspicious suitcase at the venue in Hannover. German chancellor Angela Merkel was to have attended.
Later that same day US authorities said two Air France flights bound for Paris, one from Los Angeles and one from Dulles airport in Washingon, were diverted after anonymous threats.
In Belgium, prosecutors on Tuesday charged two Belgian men — Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri — with participation in a terrorist enterprise in connection with the Paris attacks.
Belgian media reported that both men, who were arrested in a raid in Molenbeek on Saturday, are suspected of helping to assemble explosives for suicide vests used in the attacks. Both are believed to be friends of Mr Abdeslam — and have admitted to driving to Paris in the early hours of Saturday morning to take him back to Brussels.
The car carrying Mr Abdeslam was checked three times by authorities on its return from Paris to Brussels, according to Mr Amri’s lawyer, Xavier Carrette, raising questions over the security operation in the hours after the attack.
Mr Carrette said his client made the 300km drive to Paris to pick up his friend two hours after the attack “without thinking”, in “perhaps the biggest mistake of his life”.
French authorities said Mr Abdeslam had booked rooms in a hotel in the Alfortville suburb of Paris to serve as a safe house for the group ahead of the attacks, together with a flat in the Bobigny area.
The French magazine Le Point showed video footage of what it said was the interior of the rooms, including shots of pizza boxes and what appeared to be discarded syringes.
In Austria, the interior ministry confirmed Mr Abdeslam entered Austria from Germany on September 9 with two other men it did not name, adding that inquiries were continuing to establish where he had stayed and for what purpose.
German authorities thought they had nabbed Mr Abdeslam at one point on Tuesday — only to discover they were mistaken. It was in Alsdorf, near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands, where they detained five suspects.
“There were tip-offs that it could be a big fish,” Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister, said. A police spokesman later said authorities had “no knowledge that these individuals are connected with the attack”.
Back in Belgium, another of Mr Abdeslam’s brothers, Mohamed, went on national television and appealed for his sibling to surrender. “The best would be that he hands himself in, in order that the justice system can shed full light on all this business.”
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