Suicide vest found in Paris as Brussels extends lockdown

RSTV Bureau
PARIS:  Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and France's President Francois Hollande arrive at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron have paid a visit to the Bataclan concert venue in central Paris, which saw the worst carnage of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Paris: Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and France’s President Francois Hollande arrive at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday. They paid a visit to the Bataclan concert venue in central Paris, which saw the worst carnage of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

An explosive vest similar to those used in the Paris attacks was found near the same place where a suspect’s mobile phone had been found in a suburb of Southern Paris. This new discovery has raised the possibility that a mission was aborted , ditching a malfunctioning vest or fleeing in fear.

The police said the explosive vest — without a detonator — was found by a street cleaner in a pile of rubble in Chatillon-Montrouge, on the southern edge of Paris and at a considerable distance from the sites of the attacks on the Right Bank of the Seine to the north.

A police official later said the vest contained bolts and the same type of explosives (TATP) as those used in the November 13 Paris attacks that claimed 130 lives and left hundreds wounded.

Francois Molins, the anti-terror prosecutor who is taking centre-stage in the investigation, said the vests used in the attacks were made using TATP — acetone peroxide,  a chemical easy for amateurs to make — as well as batteries and a push-button detonator.

The device was found on Monday in the same area where a cellphone belonging to fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam was located on the day of the Paris attacks but the vest has not been formally linked to him, said two police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

The discovery of the vest came as Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel said Brussels, which houses the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, faced a “serious and imminent” threat that requires keeping the city at the highest alert level. While the rest of the country would stay at the second-highest level.

The security measures, already in place for three days, have severely disrupted normal life in the capital. Belgium’s crisis center said the alert level would only change if a significant breakthrough warranted it.

Belgium-based terrorism expert Claude Moniquet, who has been in contact with both Belgian and French investigators since the attacks, laid out two possibilities: that Abdeslam became afraid of carrying out a suicide mission or, more likely he says, that he simply ditched a defective explosive vest. He doubted that fear played a role on Islamic State followers, “it is rare not to go to the end” he said.

Moniquet said this was only a theory since he had not yet spoken to investigators about the explosive vest find.

A manhunt is underway for Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam in France and Belgium, whose brother Brahim was among attackers who blew themselves up. He crossed the border into Belgium after the attacks, with French police stopping and interviewing him, before letting him go.

A source close to the inquiry said telephone data revealed that Salah Abdeslam was a key suspect in the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead. He is suspected of playing at least a logistical role in the coordinated shooting and suicide bombings that took place on November 13.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Paris that he will ask for parliamentary approval for the UK to join airstrikes against Islamic State extremists in Syria. If approved, Britain would join other nations carrying out bombings in Syria, including the US, France and Russia.

French President Francois Hollande, will meet US President Barack Obama in Washington later today and discuss the retaliating measures against the IS.

(With Inputs form agencies)