Paris terror attacks: Suicide vest found raises possible link to suspect

November 24, 2015 2:00 pm

 Police officers enforcing a curfew in a town last week. Photo / Getty Images

A street cleaner in a Paris suburb found an explosive vest similar to
those used in the Paris attacks near the place where a suspect’s mobile
phone had been found, raising the possibility that he aborted his
mission, either ditching a malfunctioning vest – or fleeing in fear.
The
discovery of the vest came as Belgium’s prime minister cited a “serious
and imminent” threat justifying keeping the highest alert level
operational for at least another week. The security measures, already in
place for three days, have severely disrupted normal life in the
capital.
In , police said an explosive vest – without a
detonator – was found by a street cleaner in a pile of rubble in
Chatillon-Montrouge, on the southern edge of Paris and a considerable
distance from the sites of the attacks on the Right Bank of the Seine to
the north. A police official later said the vest contained bolts and
the same type of explosives – TATP – as those used in the Nov. 13 Paris
attacks that claimed 130 lives and left hundreds wounded.
The
device was found in the same area where a cellphone belonging to
fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam was located on the day of the Paris
attacks but the vest has not been formally linked to him, said two
police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were
not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Belgium-based
expert Claude Moniquet, who has been in contact with both
Belgian and French investigators since the attacks, laid out two
possibilities: that Abdeslam became afraid of carrying out a suicide
mission or, more likely he says, that he simply ditched a defective
explosive vest.
Nervousness could have played a role in
concocting a defective vest, but he said he doubted fear played a role
for among Islamic State followers, “it is rare not to go to the end.”
Moniquet said this was only theory since he had not yet spoken to investigators about the explosive vest find.
A
manhunt is underway for Abdeslam, whose brother Brahim was among
attackers who blew themselves up. He crossed the border into Belgium
after the attacks, with French police stopping and interviewing him,
before letting him go.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said
Brussels, which houses the headquarters of the European Union and NATO,
faced a “serious and imminent” threat that requires keeping the city at
the highest alert level, while the rest of the country would stay at
the second-highest level. Belgium’s crisis center said the alert level
would only change if a significant breakthrough warranted it.
The
increased security measures in the wake of the massacre in Paris have
virtually shut down the Belgian capital, with the subway system, many
shops and schools remaining shut on Monday. Michel said that despite the
continued high-alert level, schools would reopen Wednesday, with parts
of the subway system beginning to operate. He did not say when the
system would be completely online again.
“We are very alert and
call for caution,” Michel said. “The potential targets remain the same:
shopping centers and shopping streets and public transport.”
“We want to return to a normal way of life as quickly as possible,” he added.
Belgian
authorities have not announced any details of their investigation into
potential attacks nor have they released information about four suspects
who have been arrested and charged with terrorism-related offenses.
These include one suspect who was arrested as part of a sweep that saw
21 people detained since Sunday night. Fifteen of those detainees have
since been released.
Frank Foley, a terrorism expert and lecturer
in war studies at King’s College London, said it was difficult to know
if the Belgian operations were justified because authorities have
provided few details. The measures could even be counterproductive if
they last too long, he said.
“If these dramatic measures continue
in Brussels, we will be doing the terrorists’ job for them,” Foley
said. “The government may be unintentionally contributing to the
atmosphere of fear.”
Henry Willis, director of RAND Homeland
Security and Defense Center, likened the clampdown to the reaction of
U.S. authorities after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“They did
shut down the city for a couple of days and when they lifted those
restrictions, that’s when they caught the terrorist,” he said.
Several
of the Paris attackers had lived in Brussels, including Abdelhamid
Abaaoud, the man who authorities say orchestrated the plot. He was
killed Wednesday in a standoff with French police.
French
authorities issued a new appeal for help in identifying one of the three
attackers who was killed in the assault near the national stadium. They
posted a photo of the man on Twitter Sunday asking the public for
information.
Greek police confirmed the man posed as an asylum
seeker before the carnage. Public Order Minister Nikos Toskas said the
man traveled to the island of Leros on Oct. 3, but he gave no further
details.
Two senior Greek law enforcement officials told The
Associated Press that the man traveled with another attacker, identified
as Ahmad Al Mohammad. Both men were rescued by the Greek coast guard
while traveling from Turkey on a boat carrying nearly 200 migrants and
refugees that sank before reaching Greece. The officials requested
anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.
Last
week, France extended for three months a state of emergency that allows
police raids, searches and house arrest without permission from a
judge. On Saturday, it also extended a ban on demonstrations and other
gatherings through Nov. 30, when a U.N. climate conference to be
attended by more than 100 heads of state is scheduled to start.
The West, reeling from attacks in the heart of , was also using military might to go after the Islamic State group.
Earlier
Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a visit to
Paris that he would seek parliamentary approval for the U.K. to join the
airstrikes being carried out by the U.S., France, Russia and other
nations against the Islamic State extremists in Syria. Britain has been
carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, and Cameron has long wanted an expanded
mandate to extend the air campaign to Syria.
Cameron and French
President Francois Hollande paid a visit to the Bataclan concert hall,
which saw the worst of the carnage. Seeking a unified strategy on Syria,
Hollande meets Tuesday with President Barack Obama and with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, before traveling to Moscow on
Thursday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
France’s
Defense Ministry said it launched its first airstrikes from the Charles
de Gaulle aircraft carrier, bombing IS targets in the Iraqi cities of
Ramadi and Mosul in a seven-hour operation. The ministry said four
Rafale fighter jets were sent from the carrier Monday afternoon. France
has already carried out strikes against IS targets in Syria.

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