PARIS (CNN) — At least three people believed linked to the November 13 Paris terror attacks were previously known to Belgian authorities, Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told CNN on Tuesday, November 17, 2015.
Two of those three suspects are dead and one remains at large. Ibrahim Abdeslam reportedly blew himself up in the attacks. Bilal Hadfi was one of the suicide bombers who struck outside the Stade de France, according to several sources. And Abdeslam’s 26-year-old brother, Salah Abdeslam, is the target of an international manhunt.
Van Der Sypt told CNN’s Ivan Watson that police questioned the Abdeslam brothers in February.
“Ibrahim tried to go to Syria and was sent back by the Turks in the beginning of 2015,” Van Der Sypt said. “It was after that that we questioned him.” Both brothers were released, the federal prosecutor said, after they denied wanting to go to Syria.
He said Belgian authorities were also trying to keep an eye on Hadfi. “We knew he was in Syria,” Van Der Sypt said. “But what we didn’t know is apparently he was back, as he blew himself up in Paris. But we had no knowledge of the fact that he was back in Europe.”
A black Renault Clio found in Paris’ 18th district Tuesday morning had been rented by Salah Abdeslam, multiple French media outlets reported, citing police sources.
Tracking the suspected mastermind
Before the Paris attacks, France and its allies had tried to target a prominent ISIS member who is believed to have planned the assault on the French capital, a French source close to the investigation said.
Western intelligence agencies had attempted to track Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen thought to be in Syria, but they weren’t able to locate him, the source told CNN on Tuesday.
Abaaoud had been implicated in the planning of a number of terrorist attacks and conspiracies in Western Europe before the Paris attacks. ISIS claimed responsibility for the slaughter, in which men armed with assault rifles and suicide vests killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more.
One of the voices heard in a video put out by ISIS claiming responsibility is that of Fabien Clain, a senior French ISIS operative, a French security source briefed on the investigation told CNN.
Abaaoud, who is believed to be close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was linked to a plan to attack Belgian police that was thwarted in January. He has since been featured in ISIS’ online English-language magazine. His current whereabouts are unknown.
New French raids, reported Germany arrests
France is under a state of emergency and struggling to come to terms with the horror unleashed by ISIS on the streets of its capital.
Security forces conducted more than 128 new raids around the country overnight, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday during a radio interview.
A major Belgian police operation Monday in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, an area with a history of links to Islamist terror plots, failed to yield any arrests.
Police in the western German town of Alsdorf arrested seven people — five men and two women — Tuesday in connection with the Paris attacks after receiving a report of suspicious persons. However, Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere later said there appears to be no close link between them and the attacks.
Declaring the country is “at war,” French President Francois Hollande has proposed extending the state of emergency for a further three months along with sweeping new anti-terrorism laws.
French warplanes have launched wave after wave of airstrikes on ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria in recent days, the latest taking place early Tuesday.
Links to notorious Brussels suburb
Abaaoud and Abdeslam both have strong ties to Molenbeek.
Abdeslam is believed to be a longstanding associate of Abaaoud, with both men previously involved in gangs in Molenbeek that carried out robberies and other petty crime.
An international arrest warrant has been issued for Abdeslam, who is reported to have rented the car that was found outside the Bataclan concert hall, where three other attackers massacred 89 people.
Police stopped him hours after the attacks in a car on his way toward the Belgian border but let him go because he apparently hadn’t yet been linked to the terrorist operation.
A bar registered to older brother Ibrahim was shut down on suspicion of drug-related offenses eight days before the Paris attacks, according to Molenbeek Mayor Francoise Schepmans.
Belgian authorities say two men detained over the weekend in Molenbeek in connection with the attacks are now under arrest for “attempted terrorism and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.” Their identities haven’t been disclosed.
French officials have identified some of the dead Paris attackers, but two of them are still unknown and questions remain about the Syrian passport another of them was believed to have used to enter Europe along a route used by refugees and migrants.
French officials believe that six of the people directly involved in the attacks had spent time in Syria, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported Monday.
None of the individuals identified so far in the Paris attacks has been on any U.S. watch lists, multiple U.S. officials told CNN, raising questions about how effectively the U.S. and its allies are able to track foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq.
City on edge
On Monday, Parisians returned to school and work in a city scarred by its second major terror attack this year. In January, terrorists killed 17 people in a series of attacks that included the storming of the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
At one intersection, police who arrived to direct traffic Monday were met by worried pedestrians asking, “Is anything happening?”
At a Paris school, a father said, “It’s difficult to let them go off to school and for us to return to work, for everyone. We’re all just going to have to look out for one another.”