Police Conduct Raids In France, Belgium After Devastating Paris Attacks
November 16, 2015
French police have carried out more than 150 raids on suspected Islamists nationwide, while Belgian commandos besieged a home in Brussels but failed to find a key suspect in the November 13 attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris.
As air strikes targeted Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, French officials identified a Belgian man they said may have masterminded the coordinated Friday-night gun and bomb assaults at a sports stadium, a concert hall, and central Parisian bars and restaurants -- the deadliest terror attack in Europe since 2004.
French President Francois Hollande told a joint sitting of parliament on November 16 that he had asked lawmakers to "adopt by the end of the week" legislation prolonging the state of emergency he imposed after what he called an 'act of war' warranting a 'ruthless' response.
He called for amendments to France's constitution that would allow "authorities to act...against war-level terrorism,' including the ability to strip dual nationals of their French citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism and bar them from entering the country if they are deemed a 'terrorism risk.'
Meanwhile, world leaders at a two-day G20 summit in Turkey focused on the threat from IS and other extremist groups, vowing steps to cut off terrorist financing and share intelligence but departing with few signs of a major change of strategy against IS, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris killings.
With the Paris attacks igniting calls for a crackdown on migrants streaming into Europe from Syria and other war-torn states, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the migration crisis must not be conflated with the terrorist threat.
Emboldened IS militants threatened more attacks against the West. A video released by the radical Islamist group said no country that is battling IS would be spared, and specifically warned it would attack the United States and 'conquer' Rome.
The French assaults appeared to show the militant group has broadened its range and ambitions since seizing broad swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq last year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in late September launched a campaign of air strikes in Syria that Western nations charge is mainly aimed at shoring up President Bashar al-Assad's government, said that after the Paris attacks it is clear that only joint actions can be effective against terrorism.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on November 16 that police had raided homes of suspected Islamists overnight across France, where President Francois Hollande imposed a state of emergency after what he called an 'act of war' and promised a 'ruthless' response.
'We are making use of the legal framework of the state of emergency to question people who are part of the radical jihadist movement...and all those who advocate hate of the republic,' Valls said.
'We know that operations were being prepared and are still being prepared, not only against France, but against other European countries,' the prime minister added.
French police conducted 168 raids overnight, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on November 16. He said there have been 23 arrests in the wake of the attacks, and that 104 people are under house arrest. Police said an arsenal of weapons had been seized.
In neighboring Belgium, federal prosecutors said on November 16 that two people detained two days earlier were being held on terrorism charges related to their possible role in the Paris attacks, though no details about the suspects was given.
The two individuals face charges of leading a terrorist attack and participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, Reuters reported.
Heavily armed Belgian police also carried out an operation in Molenbeek, an impoverished Brussels neighborhood that has been a hotbed of Islamist militancy. Prosecutors said the search did not result in evidence and that no one was arrested.
Police said the operation was related to the Paris attacks and to the search for Saleh Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French citizen who is wanted under an international arrest warrant.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF said one person was detained but it was not Abdeslam
Western news agencies reported that French officials identified the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who the official said is believed to have also been linked to thwarted attacks on a Paris-bound high-speed train in August and a Paris area church in April.
Abaaoud 'appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe,' Reuters quoted a source close to the investigation as saying on condition of anonymity.
The child of Moroccan immigrants, Abaaoud grew up in Molenbeek and was once a student at a prestigious Brussels high school. But he became a zealous Islamist militant and once recruited his 13-year-old brother to join him in Syria, AP reported. He is in his 20s.
French prosecutors said they have identified five of the seven suspected suicide attackers who died on November 13. Four were French, they said, and the fifth was stopped and fingerprinted in Greece in October and may have been Syrian.
France remained on edge on November 16, the final day of a three-day mourning period. Hollande stood in a crowd of Sorbonne university students during a moment of silence, which was also observed at schools and businesses across the country.
Crowds gathered at a makeshift monument at Republique Plaza, in a neighborhood targeted by the attacks, where a banner reads 'Can't Scare Us.' But fireworks set off panic in a crowd gathered to mourn and show solidarity with the victims on November 15, underscoring concerns of fresh violence.
'We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries,' French Prime Minister Valls told RTL radio. 'We are going to live with this terrorist threat for a long time.'
The attackers wreaked havoc in a city that is one of the chief centers and symbols of Western civilization, detonating suicide bombs outside the Stade de France during an international match, gunning down cafe patrons in a trendy neighborhood, and methodically firing into the crowd at a concert.
Planned From Syria
The death toll stood at 129 on November 16, the deadliest terror attack in Europe since train bombings in Madrid killed 191 people and injured 350 more in 2004. Seven attackers also died, most of them after detonating suicide belts.
Hollande told lawmakers that the victims were of 19 different nationalities. The attackers targeted "the 'youth in all its diversity' and 'the France that likes life, culture, sports, parties,' he said.
Valls said the assault was planned and organized from Syria, the site of a four-year civil war pitting Assad's government -- which has support from Russia and Iran -- against IS and militants and other opponents, some of whom are also fighting against IS.
French jets targeted the city of Raqqa, the stronghold in Syria of IS, hitting weapons depots and a training camp. France is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition combatting IS militants, but until recently its jets had been bombing IS targets only in Iraq, not Syria.
The Paris attacks and their potential consequences dominated the annual summit of the G20 in Belek, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, where leaders called for unity against terrorism and IS militants.
The attacks have prompted speculation that differences between the United States, Europe, and Gulf Arab states on the one hand and Russia and Iran on the other -- largely over the future of Assad -- could be narrowed.
Putin said the Paris attacks -- which came after Islamic State claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings ithat killed 43 people in Beirut, Lebanon, a day earlier and for the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt on October 31, in which all 224 aboard died -- showed that Russia's previous calls for closer unity against terrorism were justified.
'I spoke of this at a UN session' in late September, Putin said at the G20 summit. 'This is what I spoke of, and the tragic events which have followed this have only confirmed our rightness.'
Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama huddled on the sidelines of the summit on November 15, six weeks after a very chilly meeting at the United Nations in which tension over Syria was palpable. Russia launched a campaign of air strikes shortly afterward, and Western governments say Moscow has mainly targeted Assad opponents other than IS.
A senior Putin adviser said differences over the 'tactics' in the fight against Islamic State persisted after the meeting in Turkey.
On November 16, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the 'enormous' gap between 'those of us who believe Assad should go immediately and those, like President Putin, who have been supporting and continue to support him' has been reduced. He added: 'I hope we can close the gap still further but it will need compromise on both sides.'
French police issued a photo of Abdeslam on November 15, after police in Belgium issued the arrest warrant.
'The abject attacks that hit us on Friday were prepared abroad and mobilized a team in Belgium that benefited ... from help in France,' Cazeneuve told reporters after meeting his Belgian counterpart in Paris.
Belgian officials said they had arrested seven people in Brussels after two Belgian-registered cars were discovered in Paris, both suspected of being used by the attackers.
'I do not want any preachers of hatred on Belgian soil! There is no place for them in Belgium,' Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Twitter on November 15.
A judicial source said Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national, had rented one of the two cars, a Volkswagen Polo, that was found not far from the Bataclan concert hall, the site of the bloodiest attack.
One of the attackers named by French police was Ismael Omar Mostefai, a 29-year-old from Chartres, southwest of Paris, who was identified by the print from one of his fingers that was severed when his suicide vest exploded.
A senior Turkish government official said on November 16 that Turkey notified France about Mostefai twice -- in December 2014 and June 2015 -- but only received an information request from France about him after the November 13 attacks.
Turkey received an information request from France on October 10, 2014, regarding four terror suspects but during its investigation identified a fifth individual, Mostefai, the official said. According to the official, Mostefai entered Turkey in 2013 but there was no record of him leaving again.
French authorities said that one of the attacks at the Bataclan concert hall was Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old from the Paris suburb of Drancy, and that a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the Stade de France held a passport in the name of Ahmad Al Mohammad, a Syrian from Idlib.
They said another suicide bomber was Bilial Hadfi, 20, a Frenchman who had lived in Belgium, and that an attacker who blew himself up at a restaurant was Ibrahim (or Brahim) Abdeslam, a brother of Salah Abdelslam and reportedly a friend of suspected mastermind Abaaoud.
German officials said a man arrested in the southern state of Bavaria earlier this month after guns and explosives were found in his car may also be linked to the attacks.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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