France: Paris attacks ‘mastermind’ dead
Belgium vows extremism crackdown as French prosecutor announces ‘mastermind’ of Paris attacks is dead in police raid
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday hailed the death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud at the hands of security forces in a massive police raid in Paris.
“We know that Abaaoud, the mastermind of these attacks -- or one of the masterminds because we must be careful and we know the threats -- is among the dead,” Valls said.
The body of the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks has been identified among those killed in a police raid, the prosecutor's office said Thursday. “Abdelhamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified... as having been killed during the raid” in a northern Paris suburb on Wednesday, the prosecutor said in a statement.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday said Abaaoud was implicated in four of six foiled attacks in France this year.
“Six attacks were avoided or foiled by the French services since spring 2015. Abaaoud was implicated in four of them,” Cazeneuve told reporters, shortly after his death was confirmed by the prosecutors’ office.
Meanwhile, Moroccan intelligence helped put French investigators on the trail of the Belgian jihadist suspected of orchestrating last week’s deadly attacks in Paris, police sources said Thursday.
A Moroccan tip-off, along with other information, helped police track Abaaoud to an apartment block.
‘Mastermind’ tried to recruit Spanish women
Abaaoud tried to recruit women living in Spain for ISIS, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said Thursday.
“This person, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, tried to recruit Spaniards, especially women, though social networks to join and fight with Daesh," he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS “This was not to carry out attacks in Spain. Regarding this we have no knowledge,” he added.
The minister said ISIS has focused on recruiting women to “repopulate the caliphate” which it proclaimed in 2014 in the huge swathes of Syria and Iraq under its control.
Raids in Saint-Denis
Police launched the operation in Saint-Denis after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and tipoffs suggesting that 27-year-old Abaaoud was holed up in an apartment in Paris’ Saint-Denis neighborhood.
Terrified residents awoke to gunfire and explosions as a SWAT team swooped in and “neutralized” what Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins called a “new team of terrorists” that appeared ready for a new attack.
Soufiane Belaribi, a young man of Algerian origin who lives in the suburb, said he had heard explosions while on his way to work in the morning.
“I never imagined they would be hiding here. I didn’t see any suspicious movement in this neighborhood. I have been living here for 12 years,” Belaribi told Al Arabiya News.
French authorities declared a state of emergency after the attacks last Friday, and security forces have conducted 414 raids, making 60 arrests and seizing 75 weapons, including 11 military-style firearms, the Interior Ministry said.
Parliament on Thursday also extended the emergency state to three months.
Warning over chemical, biological attack
On Thursday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned of the danger of an attack in France using “chemical or biological weapons,” in a speech to lawmakers while they were debating the extension of the state of emergency.
“We must not rule anything out,” Valls said. “There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons,” he added.
As the investigation spreads across Europe into the attacks claimed by ISIS, Valls also called on the European Union (EU) to urgently adopt measures to share airline passenger information.
“More than ever, it’s time for Europe to adopt the text... to guarantee the traceability of movements, including within the union. It’s a condition of our collective security,” he said.
Meanwhile, police in France are going to be allowed to carry weapons when they are off duty, according to a directive from police commanders issued Thursday.
They will be allowed to use their guns in the event of a terror attack providing they wear a police armband to avoid “any confusion,” according to the note seen by AFP says.
Belgium vows extremism crackdown
Belgium’s prime minister urged for changes in the country’s constitution including the introduction of tracking bracelets of those deemed as security threat after the country’s police staged six raids Thursday in the Brussels area linked to a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the French national stadium last week during the Paris attacks.
Belgium also announced its participation in the U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamist militants after the raids, Al Arabiya News Correspondent reported.
Addressing the federal parliament as security forces were conducting raids around the capital Brussels, Charles Michel pledged to use changes to the constitution to extend preventive detention times for suspects from 24 hours to 72 hours.
He also affirmed that Belgium would move forward alone on a system of airline passenger information sharing that European Union nations have been incapable of agreeing in four years.
“The risk before us is the collapse of the entire European project if we don’t take our responsibilities,” he told the lawmakers.
“All democratic forces have to work together to strengthen our security,” he said.
Michel said 400 million euros ($427 million) would be earmarked to boost the security forces, and said special attention would be paid to eradicating messages of hate inspiring young people to fight in places like Syria and Iraq, or back at home later in Europe.
“For jihadis who return, their place is in prison,” said Michel.
He dismissed criticism of Belgian police, saying they had provided vital information that led to a major police raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis on Wednesday.
Some 500 people are on Belgium’s list of “radicalized” people, and about 30 people are known to have traveled to Syria as potential foreign fighters in the Molenbeek neighborhood, a major source of extremists.
Belgium to introduce e-bracelets
Michel said he would introduce a system for people considered a threat that would “impose the wearing of an electronic bracelet.”
The prosecutor’s office told AFP the raids targeted places “linked to Bilal Hadfi,” the 20-year-old who died when he set off his explosives on Friday, in Brussels as well as the suburbs of Uccle, Jette and Molenbeek, which is dubbed a haven for extremists.
The prosecutor added that the raids targeted places involving Hadfi’s family, friends and other people directly linked to him.
Hadfi was one of three assailants who blew themselves up outside the French national stadium, killing one person, as France was playing Germany in a football friendly attended by 80,000 fans, including French President Francois Hollande.
Investigators say Hadfi was a French national who was living in Belgium and had spent time in Syria.
“It’s a case which has already existed in 2015, following Mr. Hadfi’s departure for Syria,” a source in the prosecutor’s office said.
Police also detained one person in a separate raid in Laeken, a suburb northwest of Brussels, in connection with the Paris attacks but not with Hadfi, the source added.
The person's role in the attacks “remains to be seen,” the source said.
[With The Associated Press, AFP]
Al Arabiya News’ Asma Ajroudi contributed to this report from Saint-Denis, Paris.