After Paris attacks, fugitive slipped through police dragnet
Paris, Nov 16: Hours after the synchronised attacks that terrorised Paris, French police questioned and released the suspect who is now the focus of an international manhunt, officials have said.
Saleh Abdelslam, 26, was one of three men in a getaway car, headed for France's border with Belgium, when police pulled them over after daybreak Saturday. The French president had already announced new border controls to prevent the perpetrators from escaping.
Hours had passed since investigators identified Abdelslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage-takers to the Paris theater where almost three-quarters of the 129 victims were killed. It's not clear why the local French police, known as gendarmes, didn't take Abdelslam into custody.
They checked his identification, but it's not known whether they had been informed of his apparent connection to the attacks. "It was a simple check. There was no lookout notice at the time of the traffic stop," a French police official told the AP yesterday.
Asked whether Abdelslam's name had been shared over police networks by then, the official simply said: "I have no explanation." It may not have been the only missed opportunity before and after France's deadliest extremist attack since World War II.
The day before the attacks, senior Iraqi intelligence officials warned France and other members of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State that assaults by the militant group could be imminent, according to a dispatch obtained by the AP. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group's leader, had ordered supporters to use guns and bombs and take hostages in the days ahead in coalition countries as well as Iran and Russia, Thursday's dispatch said.
The dispatch did not say where or when the attacks might take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets this kind of communication "all the time" and "every day."
But Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they also shared specific details with French authorities before the attack including the size of a sleeper cell of militants they said was directing attackers sent back to France from Islamic State's de-facto capital in Raqqa, Syria.
These additional details were not corroborated by French or Western security officials. But one US official said yesterday that the evident weaponry skill displayed by the attackers suggests that they might have received training somewhere.