BRUSSELS, Jan 8, (Agencies): Investigators searching an apartment in Brussels uncovered the fingerprint of a fugitive in the Nov 13 Paris attacks, as well as possible suicide belts and traces of the same kind of explosives used in the bombings that night, the federal prosecutor’s office said Friday. The third-floor apartment in the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels was searched Dec 10, the statement said. It had been rented under a false identity that may have been used by one of the 10 people arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks that killed 130 and injured hundreds.
The fingerprint belonged to Salah Abdeslam, whose brother was among the suicide bombers and who has been on the run since the attacks. The prosecutor’s office said the three handmade belts discovered in the search at Rue Berge in Schaerbeek “could have been intended for the transport of explosives.” Traces of the highly volatile TATP, which was packed into the suicide vests in November, as well as other material that could be used to manufacture explosives were also detected.
Salah Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in the attacks, but called two friends in Brussels that night to pick him up. A French gendarme stopped their car near the border but released the men. His two friends are among those under arrest. The Nov 13 attacks marked the height of a violent year for France that began with the Jan 7 assault on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. Paris was again jolted on Thursday when a man wearing a fake explosives vest and wielding a butcher’s knife ran up to a police station and was shot to death by officers standing guard.
The Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, said investigators are unsure of the man’s true identity. Molins told France-Inter radio Friday that the assailant carried a paper marked with the Muslim declaration of faith, an emblem of the Islamic State group and his name, and gave his nationality as Tunisian. Molins said he also had a phone with a German SIM card.
In another development, French anti-terror investigators were on Friday seeking to identify a man shot dead while trying to storm a Paris police station brandishing a meat cleaver and wearing a fake suicide vest. The man was shot dead by officers as he ran towards the entrance of the police station waving the meat cleaver and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) on Thursday, exactly a year to the day since the massacre of journalists at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.
Based on his fingerprints, police initially identified him as Sallah Ali, born in 1995 in Casablanca, a homeless man who was arrested for theft in 2013. But Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Friday that the identity was “not at all certain” since he was carrying no documents at the time of his arrest. “This identity (he gave in 2013) is contradicted by a hand-written note that we found in his clothes,” Molins told France Inter radio. “He is not known to the intelligence services under this name.” The note, which included a handdrawn flag of the Islamic State group (IS), gave a different name which Molins did not reveal. It also said his nationality was Tunisian instead of Moroccan.
Molins said the man was carrying a mobile phone with a German SIM card, with French media saying it contained several messages in Arabic, some of which were sent from Germany. The police station is in Paris’ 18th district, an area with a mainly North African population which lies close to the tourist hotspot of Montmartre. Describing the attack, an investigation source said the man pulled the cleaver from his inside coat pocket as he ran towards the officers. He “did not heed the warnings, and police opened fire”. The attacker was also wearing a pouch under his coat with a wire hanging from it, but the device “contained no explosives,” the source told AFP.
A remote-controlled robot was also used to inspect the body for explosives. The attack “illustrates very well the multi-form character of the terrorist threat today in France,” said Molins. “We can find ourselves confronted by very organised attacks with extensive logistics and coordination, and on the other hand by people who work in an isolated manner, either because of psychological instability or simply because they are following the standing order to carry out murders,” he said. IS has called for supporters to carry out random attacks in France and other European countries. A source close to the investigation said Thursday’s attacker had pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi in the documents found on his body.
And he justified the attack as revenge for French bombings in Syria. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira confirmed the suspect was not on the radar of counter-terrorism police. “From what is known of this person, there was no link to violent radicalisation whatsoever,” said Taubira on Thursday. Meanwhile, the United States marked the first anniversary Thursday of the murderous attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and shoppers at a kosher deli with a vow to always stand by ally France. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement to mark one year since a group of jihadist gunmen killed 17 journalists, police officers and bystanders over three days in Paris. “No country knows better than France that freedom has a price and that no rationale can justify attacks on innocent men, women and children,” he said. “But what was intended to sow fear and division has, in fact, brought us together,” he said. “Just as we tackle today’s most daunting challenges side by side, the United States and France will always stand together.” In Paris on Thursday police shot dead another alleged jihadist armed with a meat cleaver who had apparently decided to mark the anniversary by attacking a police station.