Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

Driver Sought in Paris Attacks as Brussels Lockdown Eases

  • Paris prosecutor says ringleader was planning second assault
  • Judge issues warrant for driver of wanted suspect in attacks

Belgium issued an arrest warrant for a suspect in the Paris attacks as an unprecedented lockdown in Brussels eased and the French parliament considered extending strikes against Islamic State.

Authorities announced a manhunt for 30-year-old Mohamed Abrini, who was seen driving a car between Brussels and Paris with Salah Abdeslam two days before the shootings and bombings that killed 130 people. Abdeslam, one of two brothers believed to have been involved in the assaults, is still on the run.

Mohamed Abrini
Mohamed Abrini
Source: Police Federale

In the Belgian capital,  which remains on the maximum terror threat level, the metro system and schools reopened Wednesday after a four-day clampdown that brought Brussels to a halt. With the heavy police presence continuing, the La Libre Belgique newspaper exhorted residents to return to their daily lives, carrying the banner headline: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

As the investigations into the attacks deepen, French President Francois Hollande is trying to rally world leaders to help him take on Islamic State at its roots in Syria. Hollande will discuss the crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday after meeting U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

“Germany stands at France’s side,” Merkel said in an address to lawmakers in Berlin on Wednesday, adding that Germany is ready to strengthen its military commitment in global hotspots to relieve French forces. “When additional engagements are needed, we are not going to exclude that possibility from the outset.”

France’s parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to allow Hollande to continue air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. The government urged citizens to display the French flag in their homes to show their solidarity.

Prosecutors in Paris revealed late Tuesday that the alleged ringleader of the attacks had visited the Bataclan concert hall crime scene right after the Nov. 13 attacks as riot police were still intervening, and planned to later blow himself up with an accomplice in the capital’s largest business district. Abdelhamid Abaaoud planned the second onslaught for Nov. 18 or Nov. 19 at La Defense, a skyscraper-dotted business district, prosecutor Francois Molins said during a press conference.

Abaaoud, who was killed during a police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Nov. 18, was also tied to a failed assault on a Paris-bound high-speed train in August and a plot to attack a church in the city in April. Two explosive vests were found at the Saint-Denis hideout while Abdeslam made calls to Belgium after the attack.

Molins said that security video footage in the Paris metro indicated that Abaaoud returned to the Bataclan theater, where victims trapped inside died in a hail of bullets, as police operations were already underway.

Salah Abdeslam
Salah Abdeslam
Source: Police Nationale

With Abdeslam still on the run, a suicide vest similar to those found in the attacks was discovered in the same Paris suburb where a mobile phone belonging to Abdeslam was located. A link between the two has not been established, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Belgian authorities are trying to track down Abrini, who was spotted with Abdeslam on Nov. 11 at a gas station in Ressons, France. Another unidentified person was also charged with participating in terrorist activities.

Abrini is “dangerous and probably armed,” police said.

A Belgian court on Wednesday extended the detention of one of the suspects charged with taking part in the Paris attacks. Two other suspects will appear in court on Nov. 27.

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