France seeks help to stem flow of extremists
Belgium raises terrorism threat alert to highest level for Brussels area
PARIS— A week after the deadliest attacks on France in decades, shellshocked Parisians honoured the 130 victims with candles and songs Friday, knowing that at least one suspect is still at large and fearing that other militants could be slipping through Europe’s porous borders.
Having established how the attacks against a soccer stadium, sidewalk cafés and a rock concert were carried out, investigators were still piecing together details on the assailants and how they converged in the French capital.
Prosecutors said Friday that they had determined through fingerprint checks that two of the seven attackers who died in the bloodshed had entered Europe through Greece on Oct. 3.
Previously they had said only one attacker had been registered in Greece, an entry point for many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in Europe. That man carried a Syrian passport naming him as Ahmad Al-Mohammad, though it’s unclear whether it was authentic.
The five other attackers who died had links to France and Belgium. One of the seven dead has not been identified, while a manhunt is underway for one suspect who escaped, Salah Abdeslam, 26. French police stopped Abdeslam the morning after Friday’s attacks at the Belgian border but then let him go.
Belgium early Saturday raised the terrorism threat alert for the Brussels area to its highest level, indicating a “serious and immediate threat.”
French police official Jean-Marc Falcone, speaking on France-Info radio, said he was unable to say if Abdeslam, whose brother, Brahim, blew himself up in the attacks, could be back on French territory.
The suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a predawn raid Wednesday on an apartment in the Paris suburb of St-Denis, along with Hasna Aitboulahcen, a 26-year-old woman who said she was his cousin. Prosecutors said Friday that a third person, who was not identified, was killed in the raid.
They also said Aitboulahcen had not blown herself up with a suicide vest, as initially believed, which suggests the body parts collected after the raid belonged to the third, unidentified, person.
Meanwhile in Brussels, European interior and justice ministers vowed to tighten border controls to make it easier to track the movements of jihadis with European passports travelling to and from war zones in Syria.
“We must move swiftly and with force,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. “Europe owes it to all victims of terrorism and those who are close to them.”
Cazeneuve said the 28-nation bloc must move forward on a long-delayed system for collecting and exchanging airline passenger information, data he said is vital “for tracing the return of foreign fighters” from Syria and Iraq.
Highlighting how easily some Islamic militants seem to be able to move in and out of Europe, French officials say they don’t know when and how Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, entered France. They had believed he was in Syria until receiving a tipoff Monday that he was in France.
Abaaoud was wanted in Belgium where he had been convicted in absentia of recruiting foreign fighters for the Islamic State group and kidnapping his brother, who he persuaded to join him in Syria at age 13.
According to Moroccan news site Le360.ma, which has close ties to the royal palace, it was Morocco that gave the French information about Abaaoud’s whereabouts. France has only said it got the information from a country outside Europe.
On Friday, French President François Hollande met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and thanked the monarch for “Morocco’s assistance in the wake of last Friday’s attacks.”
Marking a week since the carnage, some Parisians lit candles and paid tribute to the victims with silent reflection.
“I’m still reeling, because these are the neighbourhoods where we young people go out a lot, places we know well,” said student Sophie Garçon as she looked at tributes left outside the Le Carillon bar, where gunmen sprayed automatic weapons fire.
Others decided that enjoying themselves was the best way to defy the extremists.
They sang and danced on Place de la République, in the heart of a trendy neighbourhood where scores of people were killed, most of them in the attack on the Bataclan concert hall.
Demonstrations have been banned in the city since the attacks, but Parisians have been spontaneously gathering all week outside the restaurants, cafés and concert hall hit in the attacks to leave flowers, light candles or hold quiet vigils.
France’s senate on Friday voted to extend for three months a state of emergency, which expands police powers to carry out arrests and searches, and allows authorities to forbid the movement of persons and vehicles at specific times and places. France’s lower chamber has already approved the measure.
Hollande is also going to Washington and Moscow next week to push for a stronger international coalition against Islamic State. Of the more than 350 people wounded in the attacks, scores are in critical condition.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said one more person has died, raising the death toll to 130, a tally that does not include any of the attackers.
“We must move swiftly and with force. Europe owes it to all victims of terrorism and those who are close to them.” BERNARD CAZENEUVE FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER