Daesh ‘high’ command ordered Paris, Brussels attacks: Belgian prosecutor

A general view showing one of the memorial sites for the victims of the recent attacks in Brussels on March, 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Updated 10 November 2016

Daesh ‘high’ command ordered Paris, Brussels attacks: Belgian prosecutor

BRUSSELS: The terror cell that launched deadly attacks on Paris and Brussels received its orders from “very high” in the Daesh group command, Belgium’s federal prosecutor said on Wednesday.
“We know that the orders came from the Daesh zone.... We know that it went very high in the command,” Frederic Van Leeuw said in an interview with AFP in Brussels.
He could not say exactly who gave the orders or whether they sent them from a base in Syria or Iraq, the territory run by Daesh leader and self-declared caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
He said the command moved around to dodge US-backed strikes. “Baghdadi was for a while in Mosul (Iraq), sometimes in Raqqa (Syria),” he added.
“We don’t know at all who are the people who really gave the orders,” he said.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks across Paris on Nov. 13 last year that killed 130 people as well as for the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station on March 22 that killed 32 people.
Van Leeuw said the attacks were carried out by the same Franco-Belgian cell in which “the logisticians in one case became the operational ones in the following case.”
With authorities still looking for suspects, he added: “The investigation is far from having ended, as much at the Belgian as at the French level.”
French sources told AFP on Tuesday that French investigators had identified Oussama Atar, a Moroccan-Belgian militants based in Syria, as a “coordinator” of attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Van Leeuw said Atar’s suspected role “is one of the working theories among others. There are a whole series of checks to be done.”
Atar, believed to go by the pseudonym “Abou Ahmad” in Syria, has been on the radar of European security forces for more than a decade.
Abou Ahmad is suspected of having sent two suicide bombers to the national stadium in Paris as well as another pair of potential assailants, who were delayed on their way to Paris and arrested in Austria in December.
After being arrested in Iraq in 2004 following the US-led invasion of the country, Atar spent time in various jails including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison used by American forces.
After being released, in 2012 he returned to Belgium before apparently making his way back to the Middle East but intelligence services lost track of him months ago.
Asked why Atar had not been under surveillance, the prosecutor said even the French, who had more manpower, could not monitor someone round the clock.
“We must abandon this idea that is possible to follow people 24 hours a day... even when a legal case is opened,” he said.
Van Leuw said Belgium had made “enormous progress” in the investigation into the attacks.
“The goal is effectively to understand and retrace everything that happened before, to retrace the entire chain of command,” he said, adding that much police work lay ahead.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.