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France ‘at risk of a chemical attack’ – Mastermind of Paris attacks Abaaoud died in police raid

PARIS: French policemen patrol on the Champs-Elysees avenue, on November 19, 2015, as part of the security measures set following the November 13 attacks. — AFP
PARIS: French policemen patrol on the Champs-Elysees avenue, on November 19, 2015, as part of the security measures set following the November 13 attacks. — AFP

PARIS: Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned yesterday that France was at risk of a chemical or biological weapons attack, as lawmakers voted to extend a state of emergency imposed after the Paris carnage. Valls warned of the dangers still faced by France as he opened a parliamentary debate that later saw lawmakers extend an extraordinary package of security measures for three months. “We must not rule anything out,” Valls said. “There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons.”

He called on France’s European Union partners to urgently adopt measures to share airline passenger information. “More than ever, it’s time for Europe to adopt the text… to guarantee the traceability of movements, including within the union. It’s a condition of our collective security,” he said. The state of emergency will be in place for three months from November 26 after lawmakers approved the extension.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant

Meanwhile, the suspected mastermind of the attacks that killed 129 in Paris was among those killed in a police raid in a suburb of the French capital on Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement yesterday. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant, who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the Islamic State, was accused of orchestrating Friday’s coordinated bombings and shootings. Police originally thought he was in Syria, but their investigations led them to a house in the Paris suburb of St Denis and heavily armed officers stormed the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions.

“Abdel Hamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified, after comparing fingerprints, as having been killed during the (police) raid,” the statement said. “It was the body we had discovered in the building, riddled with bullets.” Prosecutor Francois Molins said the raid in Saint-Denis had stopped a “new team of terrorists” who were ready to launch another attack in a city still mourning 129 dead. At least two other people were killed in the ferocious shootout, including what is thought to be a woman who detonated an explosives vest.

Raids in Belgium
At least 129 people were killed in the shootings and suicide bombings that targeted a concert hall, bars and restaurants and the Stade de France national stadium, Europe’s second deadliest terror attack in history. As the Paris probe widened to countries across Europe, Belgian police staged six raids in the Brussels area linked to a suicide bomber who blew himself outside the French stadium, prosecutors said. Italy was also looking for five suspects after an FBI tip-off about possible jihadist attacks on landmark sites including St Peter’s cathedral in the Vatican, the foreign minister said.

Under one of the measures being adopted in France, police officers will be allowed to carry weapons when they are off duty. Officers will be allowed to use their guns in the event of an attack providing they wear a police armband to avoid “any confusion”, according to a directive seen by AFP. Eight suspects were arrested in the massive Saint-Denis raid, but neither Abaaoud, the Belgian suspected of orchestrating the Paris attacks, nor another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, were among them.

Abdeslam is thought to be one of the only surviving members of the gang. His suicide-bomber brother Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up in a cafe but did not kill anyone else. As international efforts to fight the Islamic State group stepped up, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Russia was “sincere” in wanting to cooperate against IS in Syria. “There is an opening, so to speak, with the Russians. We think they are sincere and we must bring together all our forces,” he told France Inter radio. But world powers remain deeply divided over the future of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has strong backing from Moscow. US President Barack Obama said yesterday that Syria’s brutal civil war could not end while Assad remained in power.

US warning
US intelligence meanwhile published a report showing it warned in May that IS was capable of carrying out the kind of large-scale coordinated attacks seen in Paris. The assessment from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, in coordination with the FBI, specifically refers to Abaaoud as a ringleader of Belgian plotters and warned Europe was more at risk of attack than the United States. Abaaoud was previously thought to be in Syria after fleeing raids in his native Belgium earlier this year. IS released a new video threatening New York, and specifically Times Square, although police said there was no “current and specific” threat.

Hours after President Francois Hollande had urged the nation not to resort to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic reprisals in the wake of the attacks, a Jewish teacher was stabbed and wounded in Marseille by three people shouting anti-Semitic obscenities and expressing support for IS. France is coming to terms with being attacked for a second time in less than year. In January, jihadist gunmen killed 17 people at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, on the streets and in a Jewish supermarket. Citing security fears, the government has cancelled two mass rallies scheduled for November 29 and December 12 – the days before and after a key UN climate summit to be held outside Paris._ Agencies

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