Paris suspect 'may have used Brussels flat'

French President Francois Hollande at the Paris police headquarters on Thursday, where he laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the Paris terror attacks, one year after the attack targeting French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
French President Francois Hollande at the Paris police headquarters on Thursday, where he laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the Paris terror attacks, one year after the attack targeting French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Fugitive's fingerprint, traces of explosives found in apartment rented under false name

BRUSSELS • Belgian police have found three belts for possible use in suicide attacks, traces of explosives and a fingerprint of wanted Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam in a Brussels flat, prosecutors said yesterday.

They said Abdeslam might have hidden in the flat after the Nov 13 attacks, but that they were also working on the theory that the explosive devices used in the massacre could have been made there.

The discovery was made during a search of the flat in the Schaerbeek area of the Belgian capital last month. It was rented by someone using a false name, possibly used by another suspect in custody, they said.

"In the framework of the investigation opened after the Paris attacks, the federal prosecutor confirms that during a house search conducted on Dec 10 in an apartment on the third floor, Rue Berge in Schaerbeek, material that can be used to fabricate explosives as well as traces of TATP (triacetone triperoxide) were found," the statement said.

"Three handmade belts that might be used to transport explosives as well as a fingerprint of Salah Abdeslam were also discovered."

Police have been looking for Belgian-born Abdeslam, 26, since suicide bombers and assailants firing automatic weapons killed 130 people and wounded many more in a wave of attacks across Paris.

Investigators said friends drove Abdeslam from Paris to the Belgian capital, slipping through three police checks, while one suspect has said he drove Abdeslam across Brussels to Schaerbeek on Nov 14.

Federal prosecution spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said it was unclear when Abdeslam visited the Brussels flat. "Maybe he went there to get his belt (before the attacks), and maybe he went back afterwards. I suppose it's a possibility of both," he told Agence France-Presse. He did not comment on Belgian media reports that the flat was cleaned and checked for prints after the attacks, which would explain why only one of Abdeslam's prints was found.

After the attacks, the French authorities said telephone data placed Abdeslam in the area where an explosives belt was found in a dustbin in the Paris suburb of Montrouge.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on bars, restaurants and a concert hall. The attackers were armed with guns and suicide belts. Seven died in the assault but the total number of those directly involved is unclear. One of them was Abdeslam's brother, Brahim.

Early last month, Belgian prosecutors said they were looking for two "armed and dangerous" men who used false ID papers to help Abdeslam travel to Hungary in September where he was stopped - and let go - by police. The Belgian authorities have arrested and charged 10 people linked to the attacks.

France has long said the attacks were prepared and organised in Belgium and the mastermind was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Brussels resident who was killed in a police raid in Paris days after the massacre.

Meanwhile, French anti-terror investigators were yesterday seeking to identify a man shot dead on Thursday while trying to storm a Paris police station wielding a cleaver and wearing a fake suicide-bomb vest.

Based on fingerprints, he was first identified by police as Sallah Ali, who was born in 1995 in Casablanca, and was a homeless man arrested for theft in 2013. But Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said yesterday that the identity was "not at all certain" since he had no documents when arrested.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Paris suspect 'may have used Brussels flat''. Print Edition | Subscribe