French police had three opportunities to catch a Belgian suspect in the Paris attacks and each time let him go, a defence lawyer said on Tuesday, adding to the missed signals complicating efforts to track down those behind an onslaught in which 129 people were killed.
Belgian suspect eludes police, complicating probe
Police apparently had no idea the passenger in the car would later be identified as having been linked to the attacks.
Friday night's attacks, claimed by Islamic State militants, raised security concerns around the world. Bomb fears prompted Hanover, Germany, police to call off a soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands two hours before game time on Tuesday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been due to attend.
In Syria, France and Russia bombed targets to punish Islamic State for the coordinated Paris massacre and the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31. In Moscow, the Kremlin acknowledged that a bomb had destroyed the jet last month, killing 224 people.
On the night of the attack in Paris, French police failed to capture Belgian Salah Abdeslam, believed to have played a central role in both planning and executing the Paris attacks, despite having stopped the car in which he was riding three times during a massive manhunt, Xavier Carette, the driver's lawyer, said.
Speaking to Belgian broadcaster RTBF, Carette said his client, Mohammed Amri, suspected nothing when his friend Abdeslam, 26, called two hours after the attacks for a ride to Brussels and said his car had broken down. Amri is in police custody; Abdeslam remains at large.
"You know, when you're on a car journey, you can talk about everything and nothing, listen to music, even smoke a joint, but at no time, no, they didn't talk about that," Carette said of the massacre. He said young Arab men are used to police stops.
French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday - four Frenchmen and a fifth man who was fingerprinted in Greece among refugees last month. Abdeslam is one of two men police believe were directly involved and who subsequently escaped, not one as previously said.
Islamic State said they carried out the attacks in retaliation for French and Russian air raids in Iraq and Syria. Investigators said the Paris plot was hatched in Syria and nurtured in Belgium.
Syrian targets hit by Russian long-range bombers and cruise missiles on Tuesday included the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. French warplanes also targeted Raqqa on Tuesday evening in the third such bombing raid within 48 hours.
Paris and Moscow are not coordinating their operations, but French President Francois Hollande has called for a global campaign against the radicals in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible and intensify air strikes against Islamists in Syria.
"We need to work out a plan with them of joint sea and air actions," Putin told military chiefs.
"Maybe today this grand coalition with Russia is possible," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told TF1 television channel on Tuesday evening.
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