At least three members of the jihadi gang who killed 129 people Paris on Friday night were French citizens, police believe.
The authorities identified a 29-year-old, French-born Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, as one of the three suspected attackers who killed almost 100 people at the Bataclan music venue in Paris. Mostefaï, who was identified from part of a severed finger found at the scene, was a petty criminal who the intelligence services had flagged in 2010 as a potential radical.
Seven members of Mostefaï's family, including his brother and father, were arrested in Romilly and Bondoufle, on the outskirts of Paris, at the weekend. A further seven people were arrested in Belgium, where French police believe some of the gang were based.
Investigators have focused in particular on three Belgian-based French brothers they believe were involved in the attacks, Le Monde reported. The paper said one of the men – Abdeslam Salah – suspected of having hired the black Volkswagen seen outside the Bataclan, was in a car stopped by police on the France-Belgium border on Saturday but that officers let him pass through the checkpoint because his name was not flagged in their database. An international arrest warrant has been issued in his name.
The second brother is thought to have been the suicide bomber who blew himself up in a cafe on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris on Friday night, while the third was detained for questioning by Belgian police.
The search continued for other possible assailants who may have fled in the aftermath of the attacks, which killed 129 people and injured 352.
First suicide bombings
Seven gang members, operating in three cells that carried out near-simultaneous attacks, died on Friday night: six blew themselves up with suicide vests – the first-ever suicide bombings on French soil – and one was shot dead by police. However, the discovery of a black Seat car in the Paris suburb of Montreuil yesterday morning suggested some of the attackers may have escaped. Three Kalashnikov assault rifles were abandoned inside the car, which was similar to the one police say was used in the attack on the Petit Cambodge restaurant and the Carillon bar in the 11th arrondissement on Friday night.
Mostefaï, whose family was of Algerian origin, was born in the southern Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, and had been identified as being at risk of radicalisation in 2010. He had been convicted of eight relatively minor offences, including driving without a licence, but had never spent time in prison. He had not been identified as belonging to an active jihadi cell in Chartres, the town where he lived in recent years, and had never been implicated in a terrorist investigation.
French police say Mostefaï, a father-of-one, travelled to Turkey in late 2013, and the intelligence services suspect he was in Syria for a number of months in late 2013 and early 2014, Le Monde reported. His former neighbours in La Madeleine, a working-class district in Chartres, said told local newspaper Le Journal du Centre he had not been seen in the area in two or three years. The same paper reported that Mostefaï was acquainted with a radical Islamist, of Moroccan origin but based in Belgium, who came to Chartres a number of times.
Confirmation that some of the attackers were French, and that there may have been a Syrian connection, supported long-held fears about the return of "homegrown" jihadis from the Middle East. France is believed to have exported more Islamist fighters than any other European country to Syria, and the authorities have long been concerned about the threat posed by returning, foreign-trained militants.
Possible Chartres cell
“Today, the question that arises is to know whether a cell exists in Chartres or whether Ismaël Mostefaï was an isolated individual with links to other networks in Belgium or elsewhere,” mayor of Chartres Jean-Pierre Gorges said.
Police are also investigating a Syrian passport found near the body of a gunman in the Bataclan. Paris prosecutor François Molins said the passport belonged to a man born in 1990 who was not known to the French authorities.
The Serbian government said a holder of the passport had passed through the country last month. The individual had been registered at Serbia’s Presevo border crossing with Macedonia on October 7th, the Serbian interior ministry said, and his details were the same as those of a man who had registered in Greece on October 3rd.
Greek authorities said on Saturday the passport matched one used by someone who had landed on the island of Leros.
The suggestion an attacker could have passed himself off as a refugee reignited a row with the EU on how to handle the flow of asylum seekers and migrants from the Middle East and Africa into Europe.