At least two Paris attackers ‘travelled through Greece’
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At least two of the perpetrators of last week’s attacks in Paris passed through Greece posing as refugees fleeing the Syrian war, French prosecutors said Friday, as scrutiny increases on how to control the EU’s external borders.
It was already known that one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium – one of a number of areas in the French capital to be hit in last Friday’s attacks that killed 130 people – had been identified from a Syrian passport found near his body.
The passport gave his name as Ahmad al-Mohammad, though it was not clear whether the document was genuine or had been stolen. Fingerprint records in Greece showed the man had passed through the country on October 3 alongside 198 refugees arriving by boat from Turkey.
But on Friday, Paris prosecutor François Molins revealed that a second suicide bomber, who detonated his explosive vest at Gate H of the Stade de France stadium, had his fingerprints taken in Greece on the same day.
The man “has been formally identified as being the individual whose handprints correspond to those of the check in Greece”, Molins said in a statement.
Attacks mastermind ‘came through Greece’
The revelation came as investigators continue to piece together the movements of those involved in the attacks in the preceding days and weeks.
Those inquiries have already raised questions about the security of Europe’s external borders as tens of thousands of refugees and migrants arrive on the continent, many fleeing war-torn Syria where the Islamic State group has conquered vast swathes of territory.
Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks who was killed in a pre-dawn raid Wednesday on an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, is believed to have travelled from Europe to Syria and back again without being noticed.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve this week suggested that the 28-year-old Abaaoud had also travelled through Greece on his return to Europe.
Athens denied this on Friday, however.
“Until today, no source has provided any evidence to confirm this claim,” the Greek citizen’s protection ministry said in a statement.
Under pressure from France to act, EU members agreed Friday to step up checks on its citizens travelling abroad, tighten gun control and collect more data on airline passengers following a meeting of interior and justice ministers in Brussels.
The changes will mean that all travellers, including EU citizens, going to or from the 26-nation open-borders Schengen zone will systematically be checked against police databases.
At present, most EU citizens are merely subject to a visual check of their documents.
Doubts over Schengen
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had warned Thursday that the whole Schengen system could be “called into question” if the EU failed to “take responsibility” over security at its external borders.
Speaking to the France 2 television station he said some of the Paris attackers “took advantage of the refugee crisis...of the chaos, perhaps, for some of them to slip in” to France.
However, he acknowledged that many of those involved in the attack had origins closer to home.
“Others were in Belgium already. And others, I must remind you, were in France.”
Earlier, Cazeneuve said Paris had received “no information” from other European countries about Abaaoud’s arrival on the continent, despite the fact he was a known jihadist and the subject of an international arrest warrant.
However, Greece has raised doubts over the efficacy of any additional checks of migrants and refugees arriving on its shores.
"External borders are checked... the refugees are checked and identified under European rules," Junior interior minister Nikos Toskas said in Brussels on Friday.
Dimitris Amountzias, police captain in charge of Moria, Greece's main registration camp on the island of Lesbos, warned it was extremely difficult to pick out dangerous extremists among arriving migrants without prior intelligence.
"If they are not already registered in the database, it's nearly impossible," he said.
"There isn't a single officer here who would let a migrant through without first taking their fingerprints," he added.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has urged European countries not to react to Friday’s attacks in Paris by rejecting or blaming refugees.
“We are deeply disturbed by language that demonises refugees as a group. This is dangerous as it will contribute to xenophobia and fear,” the UNHCR’s chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming
The best response would be to immediately improve arrival processing in Greece and Italy and implement the European Union’s plan to relocate 160,000 refugees, she said.
“We believe that if this had been done from the beginning we never would have seen these images on our screens of people on the march through Europe. It wouldn’t have solved it but it would have gone a long way to managing it.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)