PARIS ATTACKS: Gunman may have posed as refugee

Nov 15, 2015 10:17 AM

French police questioned on Sunday relatives of one of the suicide attackers who brought carnage to Paris as a row over Europe's refugee crisis re-ignited, with conservatives demanding an end to "the days of uncontrolled immigration".

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that three jihadist cells staged co-ordinated hits on Friday night at bars, a concert hall and soccer stadium, killing 129 people and injuring 352, including 99 who were in a serious condition.

Prosecutors have said the slaughter - claimed by Islamic State as revenge for French military action in Syria and Iraq - appeared to involve a multinational team with links to the Middle East, Belgium and possibly Germany as well as home-grown French roots.

Belgian prosecutors said two of the gunmen were French nationals who had been living in Brussels. They also said they had arrested seven people in the Belgian capital. Police staged raids on Saturday in Molenbeek, a poor, immigrant quarter.

In a sign that at least one gunman might have escaped, a source close to the investigation said a Seat car believed to have been used by the attackers had been found in the eastern Paris suburb of Montreuil with three Kalashnikov rifles inside.

A local resident told a Reuters cameraman that police had cordoned off the area around the car around midnight and brought in an anti-explosives vehicle in case it was boobytrapped. The car was taken away after the guns had been removed.

One attacker appears to have arrived in Europe alongside Syrian refugees, seeking asylum in Serbia. But with the European Union deeply split over the migrant crisis, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker stressed the attacker was not a refugee but a criminal.

Museums and theaters remained closed in Paris for a second day on Sunday, with hundreds of soldiers and police patrolling the streets and metro stations after French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency.

Seven gunmen, all of whom were wearing suicide vests packed with explosives, died in the multiple assaults. The first to be identified was named as Ismael Omar Mostefai, a 29-year-old who lived in the city of Chartres, southwest of Paris.

French media said he was French-born and of Algerian descent. Molins said the man had a security file for Islamist radicalization, adding that he had a criminal record but had never spent time in jail. He was identified through tests on his severed finger.


One of the attackers seems to have followed the route taken by hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who have crossed by boat from Turkey to the Greek Islands, before heading for EU countries to the north, mainly Germany and Sweden.

The Serbian government said the holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen had passed through the country last month. The Interior Ministry said the man, whom it identified only by the initials A.A., had been registered at Serbia's Presevo border crossing with Macedonia on Oct. 7.

It said his details were the same as those of a man who had registered in Greece on Oct. 3. Greek authorities said on Saturday the passport matched one used by someone who had landed on the island of Leros. They believe that another of the assailants may also have passed through Greece with Syrian refugees fleeing the country's civil war.

The attacks have reignited a row within the EU on how to handle the flood of asylum seekers from Syria and other countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Top Polish and Slovak officials have poured cold water on an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers across the bloc, saying the violence underlined the concerns of Europeans about taking in Muslim refugees.

But Juncker said EU states should not give in to base reactions. "The one responsible for the attacks in Paris... he is a criminal and not a refugee and not an asylum seeker," he told a news conference on the sidelines of a G20 summit of world leaders in Turkey. [nL1N13A0AI]

Nevertheless, Bavarian allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a reversal of her "open-door" refugee policy, saying the attacks underlined the need for tougher measures to control the influx of migrants. [nL8N13A0F7]

"The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can't continue just like that. Paris changes everything," Bavarian finance minister Markus Soeder told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. Most asylum seekers entering Germany have done so through the southern state.

In Vienna, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said his country's intelligence services had shared information they had which indicated that France, the United States and Iran were among countries being targeted for attack.

At the G20 summit, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to step up efforts to eliminate Islamic State in Syria and prevent it from carrying out attacks like those in Paris, while European leaders urged Russia to focus its military efforts on the radical Islamists. [nL8N13A0M7]

France was the first European state to join U.S. air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in September 2014, while a year later it extended its air strikes to Syria. Russia began its own air campaign in Syria in October, but has been targeting mainly areas controlled by other groups opposed to its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow's critics say.

Jordan's King Abdullah says terrorism is the "greatest threat" to the Middle East and that Muslims must lead the fight against it. He says confronting extremism is both a regional and international responsibility, but it is mainly a battle of Muslims against "those who seek to hijack our societies and generations with intolerance."

President Barack Obama is pledging to redouble U.S. efforts to eliminate the Islamic State group and end the Syrian civil war that has fueled its rise. Opening two days of talks at a major summit in Turkey, Obama pledged solidarity with France in the effort to hunt down the perpetrators of the Paris terrror attacks. But he didn't offer any details about what the U.S. or its coalition partners might do to step up its assault against the Islamic State group.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the response to the Paris attacks should be "robust, but always within the rule of law." Speaking at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, Ban says the response must respect human rights. Otherwise, he says, "we will only fan the fire we are trying to put out."

French investigators are chasing down potential leads and questioning the relatives of a man identified as one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks.

Tourist sites in Paris are closed and thousands of French troops are in the streets as the country mourns the 129 people killed. Notre Dame Cathedral is having a special service today.

As he struggles to maintain unity, President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH' oh-LAWND') is meeting with opposition leaders, including increasingly popular far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has used the attacks to advance her anti-immigrant agenda.

Meanwhile, a French police official says three Kalashnikovs have been found inside a car that was used in the attacks on central Paris. Two cars are known to be involved in the attacks that left 129 people dead and over 350 wounded: a Volkswagen Polo parked at the Bataclan concert hall and a Seat where the arms were found Sunday.

And a Belgian official tells The Associated Press that seven people have been detained in Belgium linked to the Paris attacks. The official says two of the attackers who died in Paris on Friday night were French men living in Brussels. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.

The holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen who died in Friday night's attacks in Paris passed through Greece in October, a Greek minister said, and another suspected attacker was thought to have entered Europe the same way.

"The holder of the passport passed through the island of Leros on Oct. 3, 2015, where he was identified according to EU rules," Greece's deputy minister in charge of police, Nikos Toskas, said in a statement.

Toskas did not know if the Syrian passport had been checked by other countries through which the holder might have passed on his way to France.

A Greek police source said the passport's owner was a young man who had arrived in Leros on a small vessel from Turkey with a group of 69 refugees and had his fingerprints taken by Greek officials.

Three Greek government sources later said a second suspect was also very likely to have come into Europe through Greece, adding that an investigation was still under way.

Any identity documents and fingerprint records would have to be matched with the remains of the actual attackers to establish whether they passed through Greece posing as refugees, or perhaps bought or stole passports along the way.

Following the Paris bloodshed, populist leaders around Europe rushed to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa. Poland said it could not accept migrants under EU quotas without security guarantees.

If one or more of the attackers turn out to have come into Europe among the migrants arriving from war-torn countries, this could change the political and security debate about refugees and what to do with them.

Police declined to give the name of the Syrian passport holder, saying French authorities wanted to keep information about the suspect confidential.

The source said there were no official records showing the man had left Greece, but that authorities believed he may have crossed into Macedonia.

Greek police were also asked by French authorities to check on the holder of an Egyptian passport that was apparently found near the body of another attacker, the police source said.

Greece has seen about 600,000 refugees and migrants - mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq - arrive on its shores this year, mostly from nearby Turkey, hoping to reach wealthier northern Europe.

The island of Leros, in the southern Aegean sea, is one of five preferred entry points where Greek authorities have been setting up so-called hotspots to register and identify arrivals.


Most Popular