Paris attacks suspect ‘got past three police checks’
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Salah Abdeslam, the fugitive suspected of involvement in last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, got past three police checkpoints in France as he fled to Belgium, French media reported on Sunday.
France’s most wanted man is believed to have made his way to Belgium with two friends on November 14, a day after the deadly shootings and bombings that left 130 dead at several Paris night spots.
In one instance, Abdeslam’s companions admitted to police that they had just smoked marijuana, but were let go, a source close to the investigation told AFP news agency, confirming a report in French daily Le Parisien.
The source quoted Hamza Attou, who is suspected along with Mohammed Amri of driving Abdeslam to the Belgian capital.
All three are from the gritty Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, sometimes referred to as Europe’s “jihadi central” due to the high number of local youths who have joined jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.
The source said Abdeslam, 26, sent a text message asking Attou and Amri to come for him, and they found him "agitated... uneasy... unwell”.
Then came a threat: "He told us to take him back to Brussels or he would blow up the car," Attou said, according to the source.
To underscore the threat, Abdselam reportedly bragged about killing people with a Kalashnikov, adding that his brother Brahim blew himself up.
Seven attackers blew themselves up or were killed by police in the course of the evening on November 13. Five of them have been identified, including 31-year-old Brahim Abdeslam.
‘Not the priority today’
The younger of the Abdeslam brothers had not yet been linked to the attacks when he made his way back to Belgium, which would explain why police did not stop him.
To avoid checkpoints, Abdeslam asked Attou and Amri to take minor roads, but they got lost and ended up on a motorway, Attou said.
At the first checkpoint they were asked if they had "consumed" any substances. Abdelslam was in the back seat and said nothing, while Amri and Attou replied "yes" because they had just smoked marijuana.
"The policeman said that was not good, but it was not the priority today," Attou said, according to the source.
They were not asked for their papers, but they were at the second and third police checkpoints. At the third stop, near Cambrai in the far north of France, Abdeslam even gave his address in Molenbeek.
The trio stopped for petrol and Abdeslam went to the toilet, walking back with his jacket open, revealing that he was not carrying the explosives which Attou and Amri had been led to believe he had on him, the source told AFP news agency.
Abdeslam reportedly said he left his brother's ID card in a car - he did not say which car – "so that he would be known the world over like Coulibaly".
He was referring to Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman in Paris on January 8 as part of the series of attacks that began with the massacre at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The following day Coulibaly took hostages at a kosher supermarket, killing four before being gunned down in a police operation.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)