French investigators are hunting for an apparent eighth perpetrator as more details about the terrorists become public.
Updated at 7:20 p.m.
French authorities launched a manhunt for a possible eighth participant in the terrorist attacks that struck Paris on Friday, killing 129 people and wounding more than 350 others. Investigators also began releasing details about some of the seven known attackers as police and intelligence agencies try to piece together the details behind one of the deadliest attacks in Western Europe since the end of World War II.
France’s Police Nationale issued a nationwide alert Sunday for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old man from Brussels, who they said was “likely to be involved” in the Paris attacks.
In the chaotic initial hours of the attacks, early reports from police officials suggested the involvement of eight perpetrators, seven of whom had detonated suicide belts. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins subsequently announced during a Saturday press conference that seven suicide bombers working in three teams had been killed.
The Associated Press reported that Abdeslam eluded capture during an encounter with French law enforcement shortly after the attacks.
Yet police already had him in their grasp early Saturday, when they stopped a car carrying three men near the Belgian border. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Paris theater where so many died.
Three French police officials and a top French security official confirmed that officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. They spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to publicly disclose such details.
Abdeslam is one of three brothers who have become the focus of the investigation, Le Monde reported Sunday. According to the French newspaper, one of Salam’s brothers detonated his suicide belt on the Boulevard Voltaire during the attacks. Two of the brothers also reportedly rented two vehicles in Belgium that have been recovered in Paris. One of them, a Volkswagen Polo, was found near the Bataclan, where four of the attackers killed several dozen concertgoers. A third brother was reportedly among the seven people arrested by Belgian officials in Molenbeek on Saturday in connection with the attacks.
Molenbeek, the impoverished Brussels suburb, has been tied to several perpetrators of recent high-profile jihadist attacks in Belgium and France. Medhi Nemmouche, who killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels in March 2014, rented a room in the neighborhood shortly before his attack. Ayoub El-Khazzani, whose attempted attack on a Thalys train near the French town of Oignies in August was thwarted by passengers, also reportedly stayed there for a time.
Le Monde noted that Belgium contributed the highest proportion of ISIS fighters compared to its population of any Western European country. Amedy Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, who killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish supermarket in January, reportedly purchased most of their weapons from the Belgian underworld before the attack.
Ismael Omar Mostefai, the only named assailant in the Paris attack so far, was a 29-year-old French national by birth who lived in Chartres. Mostefai was one of the four attackers who stormed the Bataclan concert hall and died when he detonated his suicide belt. French authorities identified him from a single finger found at the scene.
According to Sky News, Mostefai was “known to security services,” but had not been incarcerated or linked to known extremist groups before the attacks. Le Monde reported he had spent part of 2013 and 2014 in Syria before returning to France. On Saturday, French police arrested seven of Moustefai’s family members and associates in Chartres, including his brother, who apparently surrendered himself at a police station in Creteil.
Details about the other attackers remain murky. The Paris prosecutor’s office said Sunday it had identified four of the seven suicide bombers so far, but did not release their names. (Mostefai was named by the mayor of Chartres.) The AP reported that three of the seven suicide bombers were French nationals.
We will be updating this story as we learn more.