French deputies vote to block websites under state of emergency, key suspect killed in raids

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
PARIS
Published 19.11.2015 15:30
Updated 19.11.2015 20:31
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses the parliament at the national assembly in Paris, Thursday Nov.19,2015 (AP Photo)
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses the parliament at the national assembly in Paris, Thursday Nov.19,2015 (AP Photo)

With France still reeling from last week's deadly attacks in Paris, lawmakers voted to allow the government to block websites and social media accounts promoting terrorism. Meanwhile, the suspected mastermind of the attacks was killed in Wednesday's raids

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday praised the "wisdom" of lawmakers who agreed to a measure allowing government to block websites and social media accounts promoting or inciting terrorist acts after voting to extend a state of emergency to three months.

After approval in the National Assembly yesterday, the state of emergency measure goes to the Senate today, where it is likely to win approval.

French authorities declared a state of emergency after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and security forces have conducted 414 raids, making 60 arrests and seizing 75 weapons – including 11 military-grade firearms – the French Ministry of Interior said. The state of emergency expands police powers to conduct arrests and searches, and allows authorities to forbid the movement of people and vehicles at specific times and places.

Meanwhile, the suspected mastermind behind the deadly attacks in Paris was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the city prosecutor's office announced yesterday.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins' office said 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud was identified based on skin samples. His body was found in the apartment building targeted in the chaotic and bloody raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. Police launched the operation after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and tip offs suggesting that Abaaoud was holed up there. Killed along with Abaaoud was a woman who blew herself up with an explosive vest at the beginning of the raid. Eight people were arrested.

With France still reeling from the Friday attacks that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds of others in the French capital, Valls warned that extremists might at some point use chemical or biological weapons, and urged lawmakers to extend a national state of emergency by three months. "Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria … but for what it is," Valls told the lower house of parliament. "We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons," he added. However, Valls did not say there was a specific threat involving such weapons.

Elsewhere in Europe, jittery leaders and law enforcement agencies moved to protect their populations as Rob Wainwright, director of the European Union's police coordination organization Europol, warned of "a very serious escalation" of the terror threat in Europe. In Italy, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said law enforcement officials were searching for five people flagged by the FBI in response to a U.S. warning about potential targets following the Paris attacks. The U.S. State Department issued a warning Wednesday that St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Milan's Duomo cathedral and La Scala opera house, as well as churches, synagogues, restaurants, theaters and hotels had been identified as "potential targets."

Danish and Norwegian police were asked to be on the lookout for a man Swedish authorities said is wanted in connection with an investigation into "preparation for a terrorist offense." Sweden's Security Service, known as SAPO, said the request was not linked to the Paris attacks.

In Belgium, where many of the Paris attackers lived, Prime Minister Charles Michel announced a package of additional anti-terror measures, and said 400 million euros would be earmarked to expand the fight. He told lawmakers that security personnel will be increased and special attention will be paid to eradicating hate messages. He also called for more international cooperation, and said he wants to amend the Belgian constitution to extend the length of time terror suspects can be held by police without charge. "All democratic forces have to work together to strengthen our security," Michel said.

In Belgium, authorities launched six raids in the Brussels region yesterday linked to Bilal Hadfi, one of the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France. An official in the Belgian federal prosecutor's office told The Associated Press (AP) the raids were taking place in the suburb of Molenbeek and other areas of Brussels. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said the actions were focusing on Hadfi's "entourage."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged the international community to do more to eradicate DAESH, which claimed responsibility for last Friday's attacks on a rock concert, Parisian cafes and the national stadium. Fabius, speaking on France-Inter radio, said the group "is a monster. But if all the countries in the world aren't capable of fighting against 30,000 people [DAESH members], it's incomprehensible."

France has stepped up its airstrikes against extremists in Syria, and French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said yesterday that French forces have destroyed 35 DAESH targets in Syria since the attacks on Paris. Next week, French President Francois Hollande is going to Washington, D.C., and Moscow to push for a stronger international coalition against the extremist group.

Speaking after the seven-hour siege in Saint-Denis, Hollande said that France was "at war" with DAESH. In its English-language magazine, DAESH said it will continue its violence and "retaliate with fire and bloodshed" for "the multitudes killed and injured in crusader airstrikes."

Paris prosecutor Molins said Wednesday that investigators found a cell phone in a garbage can outside the Bataclan concert hall in eastern Paris where 89 of the victims of last Friday's carnage died. It contained a text message sent about 20 minutes after the massacre began. "We're off, it's started," it read.

Molins said investigators were still trying to identify the recipient of the message. French authorities have said most of the Friday attackers five have been identified so far were unknown to them. But two U.S. officials said that many, though not all, of those identified were on the U.S. no-fly list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

A Spanish security official said French authorities had sent a bulletin to police across Europe asking them to watch out for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Salah Abdeslam, whose brother, Brahim, was among the attackers who blew themselves up.

Last Friday, France was hit by its worst terror attack since World War II. At least 129 people died, and more than 350 were wounded, with dozens still in critical condition.

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