Liveblog: Paris attacks

#ParisAttacks

Middle East Eye brings you the latest news on the aftermath of the Paris atrocity, which killed at least 129 people and injured hundreds

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Last update: 
July 22 Jul 2017 14:55 UTC
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Good morning from Middle East Eye in London. Here are the latest developments:

  • Prosecutors have named the alleged 'mastermind' of the Paris attacks as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was described by the AP news agency as one of the Islamic State's principal executioners in Raqqa.
  • Salah Abdeslam was named in an arrest warrant as a driver for the Bataclan killers. He is reported to be a French national living in Belgium. He remains at large.
  • Belgian police launched raids in the Molenbeek area connected to the Paris attack.
  • Two of the attackers in Paris were named by prosecutors this morning - Samy Amimour and Ahmad al-Mohammad. Amimour was one of the Bataclan attackers, while Mohammad blew himself up outside the Stade de France.
  • French police raided more than 168 addresses overnight.
  • French jets struck multiple targets in Raqqa overnight, after the French government described the Paris attacks as an 'act of war'.

Eiffel Tower reopens lit up in French flag colours

The Eiffel Tower has re-opened in Paris and for the next three nights it will be lit up in the French flag colours of red, white, and blue.

Brother of key Paris suspect says doesn't know where he is

The brother of wanted Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam said on Monday that he did not know where he was, adding that his sibling was a "normal lad".

"As far as my brother is concerned, we don't know where he is right now," Mohammed Abdeslam told Belgium's RTL television at his family home inBrussels after he was released by police without charge after two days in detention.

UK spy numbers 'to reach record levels'



British secret services HQ in London (Wikipedia)

David Cameron's announcement of the hiring of 1,900 new spies will push the total in service in the UK to about 14,600, according to the Reuters news agency.

The British prime minister said the IS attack in Paris showed the West was locked in a "generational struggle that demands we provide more manpower to combat those who would destroy us and our values".

Reuters said the expansion would boost the domestic MI5 spy service, MI6 foreign intelligence agency and the GCHQ eavesdropping centre.

The British government also plans to double spending on aviation security, Reuters said, following the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt last month.

Hollande: We are at war against Jihadi terrorism

French President Francois Hollande is addressing Congress (Congrès du Parlement) and stated that he will reconvene on Wednesday to discuss extending the state of emergency for the next three months.

Hollande stated that governments need to give more support to those who are fighting the Islamic State group, and that he will meet with US and Russian presidents Obama and Putin respectively to "unite our forces and reach a result".

Echoing comments from both the Turkish and US presidents on Monday, Hollande underlined that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad cannot be part of a political solution to Syria's conflict.

Hollande also said their in a need to modify the country's constitution in order to "fight terrorism" and suggested that 5,000 jobs could be created in police and gendarmerie, 2,500 in the ministry of justice and 1,000 in customs. 

"We want to reorganise the army," he said. "It will be reorganized to focus more on cyber defense and investigations."

 

Solidarity from Paris to Raqqa

A picture of two young men standing by Rue Albert, the site of one of the attacks that took place on Friday, has been shared on social media.

The men are holding up a phone with the image of the Twitter handle of the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

On Sunday, France launched 20 air strikes over Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.

The French defence ministry said that sites used by IS such as a recruiment centre and an arms depot were targeted.

There has been no information regarding any human casualties.



Al-Nusra Front fighter: 'What you saw in Paris is a retaliation'

Ahmed Shaheed, a fighter with al-Nusra Front - al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria - told Middle East Eye that the attacks in Paris were to be expected following France's bombing of Islamic State in Syria.

“What you saw in Paris is a retaliation," he wrote in a message to MEE. “So don’t cry about it. If a country chooses to bomb someone expect to get a retaliation. Simple.”

Shaheed, who is originally Australian, is believed to be based in Aleppo, though this has not been independently verified.

Despite Nusra's longstanding rivalry with Islamic State (IS), Shaheed said they would stand with them against "tyrants".

“Listen, IS fought a 10-year guerrilla war with a full American invasion and still remained a resistance, no matter how much you bomb or how much you try, whether IS are weak or strong, they will always be a threat if the West doesn’t stop its aggression," he wrote.

“Now you have two groups competing with each other at who can do most damage to the West. Haha."

Al-Qaeda have traditionally been seen as more willing to attack targets in the West than IS, who have primarily concerned themselves with building a power base in Iraq and Syria.

January's attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris was carried out by militants with links to the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In response to a question about possible similar attacks by Nusra on the West, Shaheed said he was just a "simple soldier".

“I don’t know what Nusra has planned - I know one thing, though. If the West keeps supporting dictators against the Muslims and keeps bombing them then expect the same if not worse," he told MEE.

However, he said that it was a "good thing" that such attacks by IS were overshadowing Nusra's activities, as it prevented the media from publishing "biased narratives" about the group.
 

Molenbeek Mayor: Police operations have ended; no arrests made

The Mayor of the Molenbeek district of Brussels announced that operations had ended to capture suspects in Friday's attacks in Paris.

No arrests were made.

Explosions heard in Molenbeek raids

Two small explosions were heard during a major police action in the Brussels area of Molenbeek, AFP reports. Dozens of masked and heavily armed police had sealed off the area and neighbours were told to stay inside their homes.

Police refused to provide any details about who may have set off the explosions or the purpose for them. 

Two hours into the siege a first explosion was heard and a similar followed it one hour later on a higher floor of a building with special security forces close by on roofs. 

Police arrested three suspects in the impoverished Brussels neighborhood on Saturday and continued house searches.

Iran warns IS against approaching its borders



A top Iranian army commander said on Monday that his troops would take "decisive" action if Islamic State group militants come within 40km of its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan.

The comments from General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, who heads Iran's ground forces, came after Iraq's foreign minister said intelligence sources showed Iran was among countries IS had plans to attack.

"The Iraqi foreign ministry warned us but the Islamic Republic of Iran's army states that it has no fear of such threats and a red line has been drawn in Iraq 40km from the border," Pourdastan said.

Read more

 

'Mastermind' of Paris spoke of planning Belgian attacks



Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man named as the chief planner of the Paris attacks, was recently interviewed in Islamic State propaganda magazine Dabiq. In it, he claims to have tried several times to enter Europe, finally managing to get into Belgium where he and others set up a base with weapons to plan attacks. The cell was apparently broken up by police, and Abaaoud says he fled to Syria.

Belgian police said today he was supected of involvement in the planning of the attack on a train in August, which was foiled by passengers after a man burst into a carriage with a Kalashnikov-style rifle.

Abaaoud, who is believed to be in Raqqa, uses the nom de guerre Abu Umar al-Baliki - 'the Belgian'.

Belgian Police asks people not to release live pictures from Molenbeek

UK says 'stopped' seven terror attacks in last six months

British security services have foiled around seven terror attacks since June with fighters returning from Syria posing a growing threat, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.

"Our security and intelligence services have stopped something like seven attacks in the last six months, albeit attacks planned on a smaller scale" than Friday's attacks in Paris, he told BBC Radio 4 from Turkey.

Cameron said he still needed to convince more British lawmaker to carry out military strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria.

The British government, which is already involved in bombing IS targets in Iraq, had lost a parliamentary vote in 2013 to extend military action to Syria.

However, Cameron added that he would take immediate action if UK interests were at stake, citing drone attacks which had killed British militants in August.

Britain is also to recruit an extra 1,900 security and intelligence staff to counter the threat of terrorist violence following the Paris attacks, British media reported on Monday.

It would be the biggest increase in British security spending since the 7 July, 2005 bombings in London that killed dozens of people.



Raffaello Pantucci: Militant network will be fleeing rather than fighting

Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told Middle East Eye that the raids by the French and Belgian police were likely to be broad in scope and put any IS suspects on the backfoot.

"Clearly they’re dealing with a network that already knew about, so they’re just stamping down heavily on them, trying to pick up all the pieces," he said.

"I think that you’re more likely to now see people scarpering, probably back to Syria and Iraq, than you are trying to launch attacks."

"Unless there’s some pretty major slip-ups they’re going to try and sweep up as much of the network as they can now and then figure out exactly who they’ve caught."

Arrest in Molenbeek area of Brussels

Belgian police launch new raids in Brussels

Meanwhile, AFP has reported that Belgian police launched a major new operation on Monday in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived.

Dozens of armed police blocked a street in the area.

Police issued a warning over a loudspeaker to residents, AFP reporters said, while Belgian media reported that officers had surrounded a house and were telling the occupants to come out.

Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment on the raid.

Paris attacker Brahim Abdeslam, a Belgium-based Frenchman who blew himself up outside a bar on Boulevard Voltaire, was from Molenbeek.

French police have launched an international manhunt for Abdeslam's Brussels-born brother Salah, who is also said to be linked to the Paris attacks.



Reports early on Monday of his arrest in the Molenbeek area were later dismissed by the police.

Belgian media released picture of alleged attacker

HLN.BE has published a picture of a man it says is Bilal Hadfi, a 20-year-old identifed by insiders and the Washington Post as one of the Stade de France bombers. 

File https://t.co/u1g6jAbKVO

Who were the killers?

Middle East Eye has a summary of what is known about the Paris attackers, and two people named by authorities as accomplices. You can read it here.