Vehicles drive past a billboard in La Seyne-sur-Mer, southeastern France.
Jawad Bendaoud, the man who provided accommodation to three people killed in a police raid last week, must have been aware that he had helped suspected terrorists, a French prosecutor said yesterday.
French police were involved in a seven-hour gunfight with the people staying at the St Denis apartment north of Paris on November 18, days after coordinated attacks by Islamist militants in and around Paris in which 130 people were killed.
“He couldn’t possibly have been unaware ... that he was taking part in a terrorist organisation,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference.
Molins said he would ask a judge to allow a formal investigation of Bendaoud’s role.
Frenchman Jawad Bendaoud said before he was detained by police last Wednesday that he had been asked to put up two people for three days in an apartment in St Denis north of Paris, but he had no idea one of them was the attackers’ ringleader.
It was in this flat that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected leader of the attacks claimed by Islamic State, died during a police raid along with Hasna Aitboulahcen, a woman believed to be his cousin, and an as yet unidentified third person.
Under French counter-terrorism laws, Bendaoud must be charged or released. The Paris Prosecutor is due to hold a news conference, though the prosecutor’s office has said Bendaoud will go before a judge.
Since the killings, France has moved its flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean to step up its bombardments of Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.
President Francois Hollande is also trying to rally support this week for a more coordinated international campaign to destroy the militant group. He is due to meet President Barack Obama and to visit Moscow tomorrow.
As millions of Americans prepare to travel for the US Thanksgiving holiday, the US State Department issued a global alert of “increased terrorist threats”.
The agency said on Monday current information suggested that Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and other groups continued to plan attacks in multiple regions.
French investigators are still piecing together exactly who did what when and have launched a massive hunt to find Abdeslam, suspected of being the eighth attacker mentioned by Islamic State when it claimed responsibility for the killings.
Abdeslam, 26, fled to Belgium the day after the shootings and his presumed presence in Brussels was one of the factors behind a security lockdown that brought the city to a virtual standstill over the weekend.
Fearing an imminent Paris-style attack, Belgium has extended a maximum security alert in Brussels until next Monday but said the metro system and schools may open again today.
Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into the attacks since France said two of the suicide bombers in Paris had lived there. Four people, including two who travelled with Abdeslam back to Brussels, have been charged with terrorist offences in Belgium. Abdeslam’s brother Brahim blew himself
While major shopping centres in Brussels remained closed yesterday, two Ikea furniture stores on the edge of town reopened, along with some of the larger supermarkets in the city.
The Magritte museum remained shut, however, and Brussels had yet to decide whether to open its Christmas market on Friday in the historic Grand Place, where workers have set up stalls with an armoured personnel carrier in the background.
“We are at the time of year when we are supposed to have a lot of people, and increase business. And there the problem with the attacks is people are scared and are afraid of leaving their homes,” said Brussels toy shop worker Laeticia Shalaj.
Belgium’s King Philippe phoned King Mohammed of Morocco on Monday to ask for help in tracking down the militants behind the attacks, Belgium’s Interior Ministry said.
A French police source said last week that Morocco tipped off Paris that Abaaoud, one of Islamic State’s most high-profile European recruits, was in France at the time of the attacks rather than in Syria as widely believed.
As authorities tried to establish Abdeslam’s movements and whereabouts, a source said he travelled through Italy in August with a companion, but his presence caused no alarm because he was not a wanted man at the time.
His companion was Ahmet Dahmani, a Belgian man of Moroccan origin who was arrested in Turkey last week on suspicion of involvement in the Paris attacks, the investigative source said.
Tracing Abdeslam’s movements since the attacks has been a main focus of the investigations in Paris. A suspected explosive belt was found dumped near the capital on Monday, close to a location where his mobile phone was detected the night after the attacks, a source close to the investigation said.
The same phone was also detected after the attacks in the 18th district in the north of Paris, near an abandoned car he had rented, before being picked up in Chatillon in the south close to where the suspected belt was found.
It was still being established yesterday whether the belt was Abdeslam’s. One theory was that Abdeslam had intended to blow himself up in the 18th district but had abandoned the plan, although it was not clear why.
French anti-terrorist police accompanied by helicopters descended on a small southwestern French village yesterday searching for a Salafist preacher suspected of mentoring young jihadists, a source close to the case said.
The operation targeted imam Olivier Corel, nicknamed the “White Emir”, in Arigat in the Pyrenees mountains of southwestern France, the source said.
The search centred on Corel, 69, the suspected mentor for Mohamad Merah, who killed seven people in 2012, many at a Jewish school in Toulouse, and Fabien Clain, whose voice was identified on an audio tape in which the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killings in Paris on November 13.
Corel, a French national of Syrian origin who lives in Arigat, was arrested but later released at the time of the Merah attacks, the source said.
France’s leading Muslim body called yesterday for imams to require a permit to preach in a bid to root out extremists, and for a new religious body to fight back against jihadist propaganda.
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), said the country’s imams should be given a certificate -- “like a driving licence” -- that ensured they promoted a “tolerant and open Islam”.
The CFCM said it would hand out the permits by testing theological knowledge and adherence to French principles, and make them sign an “imams’ charter” in which they agreed to “respect the laws of the Republic”.
Kbibech did not say whether he thought the process should be obligatory for all imams. “The time for action has come. The Muslims of France will play their part,” said Kbibech.
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