Man who lodged suspected Paris attackers goes before judge

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2015 8:54 AM

By Chine Labbé and Philip Blenkinsop

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The man who provided lodging for the presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks will go before an anti-terrorism judge on Tuesday as the hunt for suspected gang member Salah Abdeslam, Europe's most wanted fugitive, entered its 11th day.

Frenchman Jawad Bendaoud said before he was detained by police last Wednesday that he had been asked to put up two people for three days in an apartment in St. Denis north of Paris, but he had no idea one of them was the attackers' ringleader.

It was in this flat that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected leader of the attacks claimed by Islamic State, died during a police raid along with Hasna Aitboulahcen, a woman believed to be his cousin, and an as yet unidentified third person.

Under French counter-terrorism laws, Bendaoud must be charged or released on Tuesday. The Paris Prosecutor is due to hold a news conference at 6.30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. ET), though the prosecutor's office has said Bendaoud will go before a judge.

The Paris attacks that killed 130 people on Friday, Nov. 13, at the national sports stadium, a concert venue and bars and restaurants in heart of the capital, shocked a city already struck by Islamist gunmen in January.

Since the killings, France has moved its flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean to step up its bombardments of Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.

President Francois Hollande is also trying to rally support this week for a more coordinated international campaign to destroy the militant group. He is due to meet President Barack Obama later on Tuesday and to visit Moscow on Thursday.

As millions of Americans prepare to travel for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a global alert of "increased terrorist threats".

The agency said on Monday current information suggested that Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and other groups continued to plan attacks in multiple regions.

BRUSSELS LOCKDOWN

French investigators are still piecing together exactly who did what when and have launched a massive hunt to find Abdeslam, suspected of being the eighth attacker mentioned by Islamic State when it claimed responsibility for the killings.

Abdeslam, 26, fled to Belgium the day after the shootings and his presumed presence in Brussels was one of the factors behind a security lockdown that brought the city to a virtual standstill over the weekend.

Fearing an imminent Paris-style attack, Belgium has extended a maximum security alert in Brussels until next Monday but said the metro system and schools may open again on Wednesday.

Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into the attacks since France said two of the suicide bombers in Paris had lived there. Four people, including two who traveled with Abdeslam back to Brussels, have been charged with terrorist offences in Belgium. Abdeslam's brother Brahim blew himself

While major shopping centers in Brussels remained closed on Tuesday, two Ikea furniture stores on the edge of town reopened, along with some of the larger supermarkets in the city.

The Magritte museum remained shut, however, and Brussels had yet to decide whether to open its Christmas market on Friday in the historic Grand Place, where workers have set up stalls with an armored personnel carrier in the background.

"We are at the time of year when we are supposed to have a lot of people, and increase business. And there the problem with the attacks is people are scared and are afraid of leaving their homes," said Brussels toy shop worker Laeticia Shalaj.

Belgium's King Philippe phoned King Mohammed of Morocco on Monday to ask for help in tracking down the militants behind the attacks, Belgium's Interior Ministry said.

A French police source said last week that Morocco tipped off Paris that Abaaoud, one of Islamic State's most high-profile European recruits, was in France at the time of the attacks rather than in Syria as widely believed.

EXPLOSIVE BELT?

As authorities tried to establish Abdeslam's movements and whereabouts, a source said he traveled through Italy in August with a companion, but his presence caused no alarm because he was not a wanted man at the time.

His companion was Ahmet Dahmani, a Belgian man of Moroccan origin who was arrested in Turkey last week on suspicion of involvement in the Paris attacks, the investigative source said.

Tracing Abdeslam's movements since the attacks has been a main focus of the investigations in Paris. A suspected explosive belt was found dumped near the capital on Monday, close to a location where his mobile phone was detected the night after the attacks, a source close to the investigation said.

The same phone was also detected after the attacks in the 18th district in the north of Paris, near an abandoned car he had rented, before being picked up in Chatillon in the south close to where the suspected belt was found.

It was still being established on Tuesday whether the belt was Abdeslam's. One theory was that Abdeslam had intended to blow himself up in the 18th district but had abandoned the plan, although it was not clear why.

Dozens of people have been arrested and hundreds of homes searched by police in the wake of the attacks, most of them as part of a broad sweep that is not specifically targeting people thought to have played a direct role in the attacks.

Police backed up by helicopters descended on a southwestern French village on Tuesday where Salafist preacher Olivier Corel, nicknamed the "White Emir" and suspected of mentoring young Jihadists, lives, a source close to the case said.

(Additional reporting by Julie Rimbert in Toulouse; Writing by David Clarke; editing by Giles Elgood)