The architect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is confirmed dead. Attention now shifts to the suspected terrorist who has been on the run since the night of the killings and is the most-wanted man in Europe - Salah Abdeslam.
Flyers displaying his face are posted in every town in France. Investigators believe, however, that Abdeslam - the “eighth attacker” in the Paris massacres - may also be on the run from Isis. A Belgian website has reported that the only identified Black Friday attacker still alive approached a friend in Brussels on 17 November. He said he regretted his part in the attacks, which had “gone too far”.
He added that he dared not give himself up – as his brother has urged – because he feared Isis would take revenge against his family. Although based on the evidence of one unnamed source, this account fits the growing conviction of investigators that Abdeslam panicked on 13 November and did not complete the savage tasks, including his own “martyrdom”, allocated to him by Isis.
Investigators have established that Abdeslam – previously known mostly as a small-time Brussels criminal – wandered the Paris area for seven hours on Friday night and in the early hours of Saturday before fleeing to Belgium. Police have traced a mobile phone call that he made at 10.30pm – while the slaughter at the Bataclan concert hall was still in progress – asking friends to drive the 200 miles from Brussels to rescue him.
Half an hour earlier, at around 10pm, he had dropped his older brother, Ibrahim, on boulevard Voltaire, near the Bataclan. Ibrahim, a small-time criminal and Brussels bar owner, with vague links with radical Islam, immediately blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire bar. He caused no more than minor injuries to passers-by.
“Nothing [in Abdeslam’s movements] answers the description of a pre-planned escape,” one French police source told The Independent. “It is possible he panicked or chickened out of killing himself. It is possible that he was disgusted by what he had been involved in or that his explosive suicide belt failed to detonate.”
Abdeslam is known, from CCTV images, to have been the driver of a black Seat which carried one of the three gangs of terrorists who struck on in Paris on 13 November. It was the car from which two gunmen – including his brother – emerged to machine gun people on the terraces of bars in the 11th and 11th arrondissements. After dropping his brother just before his self-inflicted death, Abdeslam and an unidentified “ninth” attacker, drove east to the hard-scrabble suburb of Montreuil just outside the city boundary. The Seat was found abandoned there on early on 14 November.
He then appears to have doubled-back into Paris. Mobile telephone records show that he called two friends in Brussels from the Barbes area of the 18th arrondissement, not far from the Gare du Nord, at 10.30pm. He asked them to come and fetch him.
They arrived at around 5am. Their Brussels-bound car was pulled over by gendarmes on the A2 motorway, near Cambrai, later that morning. Abdeslam showed the officers his Belgian ID card. He was allowed to go on because his connection with the Paris massacres did not emerge until later that day when it was found that cars used in the attacks had been hired in his name.
The two young Belgians who came to fetch him, Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri, are in custody. Belgian officials say they deny all other connection with the Paris atrocities. Two other facts deepen the mystery. In its first statement claiming responsibility for the Paris outrages on 14 November, Isis said that there had also been attacks in the 18th arrondissement. There were none.
On 17 November, a black Clio with Belgian number plates was found abandoned in the 18th. It had also been hired by Abdeslam. Was he supposed to have carried out attacks in which never happened? If he had another car, why did he need to call friends in Belgium to make his getaway?
It is also unclear what happened to the “ninth” attacker captured by security cameras with Abdeslam in the Seat as he left his brother to his death on boulevard Voltaire. According to the website of the Belgian magazine, La Capitale, Abdeslam was in Molenbeek-Saint Jean in the Belgian capital on the evening of 17 November. The magazine said that Abdeslam had asked a friend to meet him to pass a message to his family – and warn the friend against being drawn into radical Islam.
“He told me that he had gone too far. He was overwhelmed by what had happened,” the unnamed friend told La Capitale. But he could not give himself up… there might be consequences for his family.”
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