EU ministers agree tighter border checks as Paris death toll rises to 130

Paris prosecutor says a third unidentified extremist died alongside alleged ringleader and his female cousin in seven-hour St-Denis siege

European Union ministers have agreed tough new border controls as fresh questions arose over how the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks reached the capital and whether counter-terrorism agents were warned of his plans.

In a city shaken and grieving a week after the carnage, the toll from the bloody wave of suicide bombings and shootings at the national stadium, a crowded concert hall, cafes and restaurants rose to 130 after the death of a critically injured victim.

As authorities announced that a third extremist was killed in a seven-hour police siege at an apartment north of Paris on Wednesday, it emerged that a returning jihadi had claimed this summer to be able to offer police detailed and extensive information “that could prevent an attack on France”.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the 28-year-old Belgian extremist believed to be behind the attacks, died in the St-Denis siege. His cousin, a woman named on Friday as Hasna Aït Boulahcen, and a third, as yet unidentified person were killed alongside him, the Paris public prosecutor said.

Officials said that Aït Boulahcen, who was thought to have blown herself up during the shootout, was in fact killed in the blast caused by the explosion of the third terrorist’s suicide vest.

Her brother said she had become radicalised only about six months ago. “She was unstable, she created her own bubble,” he told AFP. “She wasn’t looking to study religion. I have never even seen her open a Qur’an.”

Moroccan-born Abaaoud, one of Islamic State’s highest-profile European recruits, was linked with half a dozen terror plots in Europe and was thought to have been in Syria since late last year. But despite being the subject of European and an international arrest warrants, he was able to make his way to Paris unnoticed.

Police on Friday said they had recovered CCTV footage of Abaaoud filmed in the Paris metro at 10.14pm on 13 November, the night of the attacks. The jihadi was captured by cameras at the Croix de Chavaux station near Montreuil on line nine, close to where a Belgian-registered Seat car was later found with three Kalashnikov assault rifles inside.

Abdaaoud’s father said through his lawyer that he felt nothing but “anger and revulsion” for his son.

A national memorial ceremony for the victims will be held at Les Invalides in Paris next Friday, it was announced. France’s Republican Guard will carry a photograph of every victim of the attacks.

At their emergency meeting in Brussels, the EU ministers agreed tighter checks on all travellers – including EU citizens – at the borders of the passport-free Schengen zone after it became clear that Abaaoud, who carries a Belgian passport, had been able to enter Europe and travel through the Schengen area seemingly at will.

“Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union,” said Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister.

The meeting agreed to carry out “systematic and coordinated checks” at external borders, including on “individuals enjoying the right of free movement”. At present, EU passport holders entering the 26-nation Schengen zone are subjected only to minimum identity checks, usually cursory and perfunctory.

The decision, to be implemented immediately but on a provisional basis until the European commission formally changes the rules, means all EU nationals entering the free passport zone can now be vetted for terrorism or criminal connections against Schengen-area and national databases.

The ministers called for far greater cooperation and pooling of information between national intelligence and security services, agreed to establish a new European counter-terrorism centre from January and demanded agreement within a month on collecting and storing data on all air passengers within Europe.

Cazeneuve said France had won agreement on the key points it wanted. “We have taken strong, operational decisions with results that have to come about before the end of the year,” he said after the meeting.

Who are the Paris attack suspects?

No EU intelligence agency was able to warn France that Abaaoud had arrived in Europe ahead of the attacks and it took a tip-off from Moroccan agents to alert French police to the possibility he might be in France.

Abaaoud, who has boasted in Isis propaganda of his ability to travel unnoticed into and through Europe, was checked by police at Cologne-Bonn airport on his way to Istanbul in early 2014, German officials said, but was allowed to go as they had no instructions to stop him.

More questions arose, meanwhile, as to whether French intelligence was warned of the impending attacks. In what appeared to be a partial transcript of an interrogation by the internal security service, DGSI, “at the beginning of summer”, a young returning French jihadi claimed extensive and detailed knowledge of Abaaoud and his place in the Isis heirarchy.

“I know of two methods that [Isis] uses for recruiting and sending people to Europe to carry out attacks and for entering into Europe,” the returning jihadi is quoted as saying in the transcript, published by Le Parisien, “but I am not going to tell you now. I want guarantees.“I have information that can prevent attacks in Belgium and in France. I also know there is a Belgian man of Moroccan origin who is in Syria and who has volunteered for an attack in Belgium.” It was unclear whether he was given the guarantees he was asking for or what they were.

Libération also carried an account of the August interview of a French jihadi known as Reda H by the outgoing senior counter-terrorism magistrate, Marc Trévidic. Reda H said he was was given six days’ training to carry out attacks in France and despatched with €2,000 and access to encrypted websites to communicate. He was urged by Abaaoud to “hit a concert hall, to cause the maximum number of casualties”.

It is not clear whether this is the same Isis recruit quoted in Le Parisien. Both accounts say the young jihadi passed through Raqqa and met Abaaoud, although they give different details. The man interrogated in the Le Parisien article talks of €50,000 paid to Isis volunteers for carrying out attacks in Europe.

A billboard in Mulhouse, eastern France, displays a wanted photo of Salah Abdeslam
A billboard by a roundabout in Mulhouse, eastern France, displays a wanted photo of the missing suspect Salah Abdeslam. Photograph: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

All five of the seven jihadi who were shot dead or blew themselves up in the Paris carnage and whose bodies have been identified – including four Frenchmen – recently spent time in Syria, officials have said. The fifth was a foreigner carrying a Syrian passport, who was fingerprinted in Greece last month and later claimed asylum in Serbia.

A cross-border manhunt continues for another of the supposed attackers, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, whose brother Brahim blew himself up in the attacks. France’s interior ministry said 90 arrests had been made over the five nights since the attacks in a total of 793 properties raided by police, who have seized 174 weapons, 64 drug stashes and €250,000.

The French parliament has voted to extend the state of emergency declared after the attacks to three months. A raft of tough new security measures is being prepared including stripping French dual nationals convicted of terrorism of citizenship, placing under house arrest anyone considered a public threat and allowing police to carry out searches without a judge’s approval.

At the United Nations in New York, meanwhile, France is pushing for what is in effect a security council declaration of war against Isis, with a resolution calling on members to “take all necessary measures” to defeat the terror group in the wake of the Paris attacks.


Jon Henley in Paris, and Ian Traynor and Julian Borger in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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