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France, Belgium widen probe into Paris attacks

Jawad Bendaoud

By Michel Rose and Philip Blenkinsop

An investigation into the November 13 attacks in Paris widened on Tuesday when French prosecutors said a man who provided lodging to the suspected ringleader must have known of a terrorist plot, and Belgium issued a warrant for a new suspect

Painting a chilling picture of ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Paris prosecutor said that after dropping off the gunmen and suicide bombers at the cafes and bars where the attacks were to take place he had later returned to the scene while the killing spree was in full swing.

The coordinated attacks, in which 130 people were killed, prompted France to declare a national state of emergency and to step up air strikes in Syria on Islamic State, the militant group which has claimed responsibility.

President Francois Hollande, who is trying to rally global support for the military campaign against Islamic State, won the support of US President Barack Obama on Tuesday during a whistlestop visit to Washington.

In Paris, prosecutor Francois Molins said Islamist militants who died during a shootout with police on November 18 had been plotting an attack on the capital’s business district.

Molins said he had put under formal investigation a Frenchman who had provided lodging for Abaaoud and his associates at the apartment in the suburb of St Denis targeted in the shootout.

“Jawad Bendaoud himself welcomed the terrorists on November 17 towards 22.45pm. He could not have been in any doubt… that he was taking part in a terrorist organisation,” Molins told a news conference.

Bendaoud said before he was detained by police last Wednesday that he had been asked to put up two people for three days in the apartment, but that he had no idea one of them may have been the suspected mastermind of the November 13 attacks.

Abaaoud died during the police raid along with Hasna Aitboulahcen, a woman believed to be his cousin, and an as yet unidentified third person.

French investigators are still piecing together exactly who did what when and have launched a hunt to find Salah Abdeslam, who is suspected of being the eighth attacker mentioned by Islamic State when it claimed responsibility.

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 in the city over the past few days.

Fearing an imminent Paris-style attack, Belgium has extended a maximum security alert in Brussels until next Monday. About half the stations on its metro system will re-open on Wednesday along with city schools, but 300 more police officers and 200 soldiers will be deployed.

Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into the attacks since France said two of the suicide bombers in Paris had lived there. Five people, including two who travelled with Abdeslam back to Brussels, have been charged with terrorist offences in Belgium. Abdeslam’s brother Brahim blew himself.

Belgium’s state prosecutor, in a statement announcing details of other people charged in the case, said on Tuesday it had issued an international arrest warrant for Mohamed Abrini, who was seen with Abdeslam two days before the attacks.

Abrini, 30, was filmed with Abdeslam at a fuel station in northern France on November 11 and was driving the Renault Clio car that was later used by the attackers in the French capital.

After talks with Hollande at the White House, Obama said: “We are here today to declare that the United States and France stand united in total solidarity to deliver justice to these terrorists and those who sent them and to defend our nations.”

Hollande is due to visit Moscow on Thursday, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss ways of boosting their campaign to crush Islamic State.

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