PARIS, Dec 9, (Agencies): A 23-yearold man from the eastern French city of Strasbourg has been identified as the third gunman involved in the attack on Paris’s Bataclan music hall, police sources said Wednesday. Foued Mohamed Aggad had travelled to war-torn Syria with his brother and a group of friends at the end of 2013, according to a source close to the investigation. The two other attackers involved in the massacre of 90 concertgoers at the Bataclan — Omar Ismail Mostefai, 29, and 28-year-old former Paris bus driver Samy Amimour — had also been in Syria.
Two of the gunmen blew themselves up with suicide belts packed with explosives after the killing spree, the worst of the Nov 13 Paris attacks. The third was shot by police who stormed the venue with hundreds of people still inside. Most of the group of six men from Strasbourg who went to Syria with Aggad were arrested in the Meinau area of the city on their return in May last year and are all in custody on terrorist charges. But Aggad stayed on in Syria, the source said.
Investigators believe two brothers from the group, Mourad and Yassine Boudjellal, were killed fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) before it restyled itself as the Islamic State (IS) group. When questioned on their return, the men claimed they had been horrified by what they had witnessed in Syria and had started to dribble back to France from February 2014. They claimed to have gone to Syria for humanitarian work but prosecutors believe they were part of the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the carnage in Paris.
Aggad was identified at the end of last week after his DNA was matched with members of his family, the police source said. Police suspect the Strasbourg group had been recruited by Mourad Fares, 31, who was known to French intelligence for recruiting jihadist fighters through social media and the Internet. Fares — who France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has described as a “particularly dangerous individual” — was arrested in August 2014 in Turkey before being handed over to the French authorities. Cazeneuve said he was an important link man between various “jihadist terrorist movements”, including the IS and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al- Nusra. Nearly 1,500 people were watching the Californian band Eagles of Death Metal play at the Bataclan when the gunmen burst in last month, leaving 90 dead and hundreds hurt, mostly people under 40.
The band made an emotional return to the venue on Tuesday, with lead singer Jesse Hughes in tears as he laid a single flower among the piles of tributes to the dead. The band’s merchandising manager, Nick Alexander, a 36-year-old Briton, was among the victims. The Bataclan’s owners have said they want to reopen the hall at the end of next year and the Eagles of Death Metal say they want to play in the first concert. German police searched several locations in Berlin and the eastern state of Saxony on Tuesday for three people accused of planning an attack with explosives in the capital, the prosecutor’s office said. No arrests were made in the raids, the office said, adding that the three suspects had been charged with founding a terrorist organisation and planning an act of violence against the state.
Raids linked to the same case carried out in mid-October also produced no arrests, it said. One of the three is suspected of having tried to recruit members for the Islamic State militant group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. Greece’s top court on Tuesday ordered the extradition of a Syrian man to the United States where he faces charges of producing fake passports and identity theft. The United States had issued an international arrest warrant for the man, identified only as H.K. US judicial authorities said he had held meetings in Athens earlier this year with a US secret service agent and had agreed to produce four fake passports in exchange for 10,000 euros. One of the meetings was recorded by the agent.
The Syrian man was arrested in July in Athens and has been in pre-trial detention in a high-security prison in the Greek capital, court officials and police said. Greek authorities have also charged him with forgery and have accused him of helping immigrants enter and exit the country, which serves as the main gateway into the European Union for migrants from the Middle East and Africa. According to court officials, the Syrian had argued that he would not have a fair trial if extradited. His lawyer also argued that he should not be tried in the United States for alleged offences he was accused of committing in Greece. No further details on the case were immediately available.
Meanwhile, France urged its European Union partners on Tuesday to speed up efforts to cut off funds to extremists groups, nearly a month after the Paris attacks. “We have to go faster, but also further, stronger,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told reporters after talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels. Based in part on a list of measures suggested by France, the ministers discussed ways to better track financial transfers, control prepaid bank cards, freeze assets and limit movements of cash and precious metals. But no firm decisions were taken, and the EU’s executive Commission was tasked with drawing up a list of priorities for their next meeting in January.
The Nov 13 attacks in the French capital, in which 130 people were killed and hundreds injured, have highlighted the need for new finance tracking measures. But Sapin warned that “the dates for adopting these measures are far away. Terrorists are there, so we must act more quickly.” Some steps were announced after the attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January, and the shootings at a free speech debate in Copenhagen the following month, but more are being floated. France wants to bolster the powers of financial intelligence teams that analyze suspicious transactions, and to work with the US on “terrorist financing.” It is calling for a system for freezing assets to be broadened from bank accounts to property, vehicles and any benefits that suspects might receive.