Day-long Brussels siege ends, Paris attack key suspect still on the run

Despite a massive manhunt in Molenbeek, Brussels, Belgian policemen failed to arrest fugitive Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, who rented the cars used in the attacks; his brother was one of the suicide bombers

Brussels: Belgian police launched a major raid in Brussels targeting fugitive Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam yesterday but the operation ended without any arrests, prosecutors said.

Special force officers stand on a rooftop in Rue Delaunoy, Molenbeek. Pic/AFP
Special force officers stand on a rooftop in Rue Delaunoy, Molenbeek. Pic/AFP

Police, meanwhile, freed one of his brothers without charge, following his arrest at the weekend in the wake of the attacks in which a third Abdeslam brother took part as a suicide bomber, officials said.

Dozens of officers in balaclavas and carrying sub-machineguns surrounded a house in the run-down immigrant area of Molenbeek in western Brussels.

“The operation is over and the result is negative. No one was arrested,” spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said.

Luck by chance
While being on run after the attacks, Abdeslam had a lucky escape. French police had released him, after questioning him, who later on became the centre of a global manhunt.

Abdelslam was headed for France’s border with Belgium in a car with two persons when the police stopped them on November 13. Hours had passed since Abdelslam was identified as the one who took Volkswagen Polo on rent to carry attackers to the Paris theatre.

Three French police officials and a top French security official all confirmed that officers stopped Abdeslam and checked his ID and then let him go.

‘Dangerous individual’
French national police’s Twitter account describes Abdeslam as a “dangerous individual” and advises anyone who comes across him not to “intervene.”

Belgium had issued an international warrant for his arrest after the Paris attacks. French police had earlier said Abdeslam was the logistics coordinator for the attackers and rented the cars used in the attacks. He is believed to have escaped from the city in one of the cars used in the attack.

Van Der Sypt had earlier confirmed that the raid targeted Abdeslam, a former Brussels tram worker, without saying whether he was in the house. His brother Mohamed Abdeslam was released “without being charged” by Belgian authorities yesterday along with four other suspects who were among seven people arrested in the wake of the carnage in the French capital, Van Der
Sypt said.

Anti-terror raids
Monday’s early morning raids took place in Calais, Toulouse, Paris, Jeumont and Grenoble where police blocked streets and searched houses looking for suspects involved in the attacks. Media reports said about 200 members of police tactical units surrounded an address in Toulouse. Ammunition and a large amount of cash were found at one of the locations.

The key suspect
Abdeslam is the subject of an international arrest warrant by French police after the attack. His brother Brahim was identified by police as the suicide bomber, who detonated his explosive vest on Boulevard Voltaire. Brahim, who lived in Molenbeek, had links to Belgian Islamic State militant Abdul Hamid Abaa Oud

France fights back

French warplanes have pounded Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold in retaliation for a wave of coordinated attacks claimed by the terrorists on November 13. In the first strikes since Friday's carnage, French warplanes bombed IS targets in Raqa, the Islamists’ de facto capital in Syria. The raid destroyed an IS command post, jihadist recruitment centre, a munitions depot and a “terrorist” training camp, the defence ministry said.

Molenbeek on radar
Molenbeek has come under growing scrutiny as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism in Europe, with several major attacks and plots linked to the down-at-heel district. “I have asked the security services to give us plans very quickly, for Molenbeek but also other areas, so that we can have a much more organised approach to the fight against radicalism,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said. In 2001, it was in Molenbeek where the assassins of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, had stayed. It was also home for a while for Hassan El Haski, who was found guilty of being one of the masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

The manhunt
The search for the perpetrators of the Paris attacks led authorities across the Belgian border to Molenbeek. Since the early hours of Monday, the police in a standoff cordoned off at least two roads. The standoff came as Belgian national Abdul Hamid Abaa Oud was named the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks.
>> Belgian authorities have charged two people, who were arrested after the Paris attacks, with involvement in terrorism. The pair was charged “with a terrorist act and participation in the activities of a terror group”.
>> Five others detained at the weekend were freed without charge.
>> On Monday, another two were named by prosecutor as Ahmad al-Mohammad and Samy Amimour.
>> Al-Mohammad is the name on a Syrian passport found with the remains of one of the attackers, though the man’s identity has not yet been verified. The other attackers so far named are all from Europe.
>> Two of the total seven dead attackers were identified as Ismael Omar Mostefai (29) and Bilal Hafdi (20).
>> In city of Lyon, police found “an arsenal of weapons, including a rocket launcher and Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Mastermind
The suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, identified as Abdul Hamid Abaa Oud, is also linked to thwarted train and church attacks, a French official said. The 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent — who allegedly led the group and had fought with the Islamic State group in Syria — remains at large.

150 Number of  anti-terror raids conducted in cities across France

104 Number of people who are under house arrest since the attacks

132 The death toll of the attacks after three more victims died yesterday

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