PARIS — French authorities working to dismantle the terrorist network behind the Paris attacks say another attack could have been hours away when police closed in on the suspects’ hideaway last week.
Suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and another man were planning a suicide attack on the Paris financial district of La Defense on November 18 or 19, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday. Both men were killed during a raid in Saint-Denis that caused the collapse of a floor of an apartment building.
Two suspects in last week’s attack remain on the run, however. They are Salah Abdeslam, whose brother died in the attack, and Mohamed Abrini — whom police named Tuesday as a suspect.
Police say Abrini — now the subject of an international arrest warrant — drove a car that was abandoned in the Paris neighborhood where one of the November 13 shootings occurred, according to police.
He had allegedly dropped off one of the bombers who attacked the Stade de France, authorities said.
Cameras at a gas station in Resson, France — on a highway between Brussels and Paris — captured images of Abrini and Abdeslam two days before the attacks, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said.
Here’s a look at some other developments:
Belgium lockdown begins to ease
Brussels, which has been under partial lockdown since Friday night, is to remain at the highest terror alert level until at least the start of next week.
Much of the metro reopened Wednesday, though two lines remained closed.
Belgium, and specifically a Brussels suburb with a history of links to terrorism, have been a focus of the investigation.
Sources in France close to the investigation believe Abdeslam could not have survived so long on the run without help, which might involve a support network in Belgium. They say extensive raids in Belgium on Sunday and Monday — in which 21 people were detained — targeted people suspected of helping organize the attacks.
The suicide vest
A suicide vest found in a garbage bin could give investigators new clues about Abdeslam’s whereabouts. They are analyzing the vest, which was found in the Paris suburb of Montrouge, near where Abdeslam’s cell phone was traced the night of the attacks, prosecutor Molins said.
CNN affiliate BFMTV reported the vest contained bolts and TATP, the same explosive as the suicide belts the Paris attackers used.
Questions have been raised over whether Abdeslam aborted part of the attacks before fleeing toward Belgium. The Paris prosecutor suggested that could have been the case, noting that an ISIS message claiming responsibility for the attacks mentioned the 18th arrondissement, a Paris neighborhood where no attack occurred.
“Our investigation on that is still ongoing, to determine if Salah was planning on a suicide attack in the 18th arrondissement and why it didn’t happen,” Molins said.
But CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank asked why, if the suicide vest belonged to Abdeslam, would it have been discovered 10 days after the attacks?
“It is possible that somebody else may have jettisoned it, an attacker that we don’t know much about at this point,” Cruickshank said. “So they’ll be doing all sorts of forensics, trying to establish who this belonged to, and that will be a huge priority for French investigators.”
Authorities in Montrouge said garbage cans there are emptied “once or twice a week,” Le Monde reported.
The global battle against ISIS
French President Francois Hollande is in the midst of a week of diplomacy aimed at building a global coalition to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
He will hold talks Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then travels Thursday to Moscow to see Russian President Vladimir Putin. He hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron in Paris on Monday and met Tuesday with President Barack Obama in Washington.
France and Britain are already part of a U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing ISIS targets. Russia is conducting separate airstrikes against ISIS and other groups in coordination with the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Any efforts to form an alliance that includes both Russia and the United States are likely to run into thorny issues such as Assad’s future role in Syria and international sanctions against Russia for its interference in Ukraine.
Hollande has promised to intensify the aerial campaign against ISIS, and the French military began Monday to use the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean to launch strikes.