One of the Paris attackers, whose identity was known almost immediately after the attacks, was allowed to cross the French-Belgian border eight hours later. Salah Abdeslam’s rented car, rented in his name, was found outside the Bataclan concert hall, where the heaviest casualties occurred. The car was ajar in a position which showed it to be apparently one of the attack cars, with its doors and hood left open, as if to feign engine trouble in order to stop directly in front of the hall.
Abdeslam’s rented car outside Bataclan concert hall.
Over eight hours later, around daybreak, Abdeslam was stopped near the border, interviewed, and released. Border police maintain the information was never passed down.
Abdeslam is still at large. Police described him as the “logistics coordinator” of the attack.
Four French officials have told The Associated Press that police questioned and released the fugitive suspect hours after the Paris attacks. The questioning came when police pulled over a car near the Belgian border, hours after authorities had already identified Saleh Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that was abandoned at the scene of the attack.
MSNBC reported on November 15th, two days after the attacks:
Officials stopped, questioned and released one of three brothers linked to the deadly Paris attacks and who subsequently had an international warrant issued for his arrest, a top French official told NBC News.
The name of Salah Abdeslam was on rental documents for a Belgian-registered black Volkswagen Polo found outside the Bataclan concert hall where most of the 130 victims were killed on Friday, a senator told NBC News on condition of anonymity on Sunday.
It is not clear if Abdeslam’s passport identification number was called in by border police at the stop. He was driven by two colleagues.
Before the border stop, Abdeslam was stopped by police two other times earlier, in Paris, and released.
“Abdeslam was one of three men in a getaway car that headed for the border when police pulled them over after daybreak Saturday…”
The international media has described the city of Brussells, where Abdeslam is believed to be hiding, as on “lockdown.” Subway, public transit, and non-critical public services have been suspended. An NBC News report from November 21st states: “Brussels on Terror Lockdown Amid Threat of Paris-Style Attack.” A UK Guardian report from three days later, November 23rd, proclaims: “Brussels in lockdown – in pictures.”
Belgian soldiers patrolling the nearly empty streets of Brussells
The idea of a city-wide “lockdown” was employed for the first time in US history after the Boston bombings in 2013. Although technically it is an announcement by the government urging residents to “shelter in place,” that is, stay off the streets and close stores, it is often interpreted as a police order. In Brussells, as in Boston, many residents defied the announcement and went about their business. The New York Times reported in “Brussels Hunkers Down Amid Warning of Paris-Style Threat”:
On Brussels’ central square, the Grand Place, tourists snapped selfies as a green army truck full of soldiers pulled up next to a lit Christmas tree. Some restaurants and bars shuttered their doors, while others remained open, defying advice from the mayor to close for the night.
And in Cambridge, adjacent to Boston and Watertown where the Tsarnaev brothers were chased to after the Boston bombings, residents swarmed to Norfolk Street, to the Tsarnaev home in that city, in the morning as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was on the loose. People with children watched police who were searching the Tsarnaev home in a circus atmosphere.
Residents patronizing a neighborhood liquor store and restaurant at dusk, during the Boston “lockdown.”