Germany Arrests Five in Connection With Paris Attacks

Meanwhile, police in Paris recover car rented by suspected eighth attacker; voice of jihadist claiming ISIS’s responsibility for attacks identified as 36 year-old Frenchmen authorities believe is now in Syria.

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German police stand guard as officers investigate a building where arrested suspects are thought to live, near Aachen. November 17, 2015. Reuters

Police in the western German city of Aachen arrested five people, at least three of them foreign citizens, on Tuesday in an operation linked to the militant attacks last Friday in Paris that killed 129 people.

A special police response unit overpowered two women and one man outside a job center in Alsdorf, a small town near Aachen close to Germany’s border with Belgium and the Netherlands.

“After the terror attacks last Friday in Paris and the search for the perpetrators and the people pulling the strings, police in Aachen got a lead to suspicious individuals in Alsdorf,” a police statement said.

A spokesman said the three were foreign citizens but declined to elaborate on their identity pending investigations.

Later on Tuesday, police arrested two more people in Alsdorf, the statement said, giving no details.

A manhunt is on in France and Belgium for one of the eight attackers involved in the deadly shooting and bomb attacks on restaurants, a music hall and a sports stadium in Paris on Friday evening.

European search efforts are focusing on Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, in his twenties, who investigators say escaped back to Belgium on Saturday after the attacks. His brother was among the Paris assailants who died. Austria’s interior ministry said earlier Abdesalem had entered the country from Germany in early September, telling authorities he was on holiday.

He was dropped off on Saturday in Brussels by two men who picked him up in Paris, the Belga news agency quoted judicial sources as saying. The two men, 27-year-old Mohammed Amri and 21-year-old Hamza Attouh, have been arrested in Belgium on terrorism charges. Abdeslam called Amri on Friday night asking to be picked up, Amri’s lawyer told Belga. The Paris attacks were not discussed during the trip and Amri and Attouh did not see any weapons, the lawyer said.

Voice identified

Meanwhile, the voice of a jihadist claiming Islamic State’s responsibility for the attacks has been identified as a 36 year-old Frenchmen authorities believe is now in Syria, a source close to the investigation said.

The man, Fabien Clain from Toulouse, reads out a pre-written statement already published earlier this week claiming the fatal attacks.

Half of the six-minute audio includes a man giving a rallying cry with music in the background calling for Muslims to “move forward” to fight the infidels “without ever capitulating,” according to the audio sent to Reuters.

Daily newspaper Le Monde, citing sources, said Clain was suspected of orchestrating a foiled attack on at least one French church in April and said he was a close friend of Al-Qaida inspired gunman Mohammed Merah, who killed seven people in the March 2012 attacks on a Jewish day school in Toulouse.

It added that he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2009 for having led a recruitment network to send jihadis to Iraq and left France after his release.

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Special intervention forces climb to the top of a roof, preparing to enter a house in Brussels on November 16, 2015. AP

France and Russia stage air strikes

Meanwhile, France and Russia both staged air strikes on Islamic State targets in northern Syria on Tuesday as Paris formally requested European Union assistance in its fight against the group behind the carnage in Paris.

Also Tuesday, police in Paris recovered a black Renault Clio car that was rented by Abdeslam, Belgian and French media reported. Police searches were also carried out at an apartment and two hotel rooms in the Paris suburbs amid suspicions that they were used by the attackers, according to French media.

Neighboring France and Belgium are on high alert, with Belgium on Tuesday announcing that it was deploying up to 300 additional soldiers on its territory to help guard sensitive locations.

France could face another terrorist attack “at any time,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls also told the France Inter broadcaster on Tuesday.

His Socialist government has pledged to raise spending on national security, increase airstrikes against Islamist strongholds in Syria, and adopt a national security package in response to the deadliest attack the nation has faced since World War II.

French President Francois Hollande announced the measures in a rare address to both house of parliament on Monday, in which he also said the constitution needed to be revised in the face of terrorist threats.

New legislation – expected to propose quicker deportation for suspect foreigners and the possibility to strip double passport holders convicted of terrorism of their French nationality – is going to be presented to parliament on Thursday, Valls said.

“In order to safeguard the security of French people, sometimes a certain number of our liberties have to be curtailed,” the prime minister warned.

Earlier, France’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, told another broadcaster, France Info, that 128 houses had been searched overnight as part of anti-terrorism efforts. His aides told AFP that 10 people were taken in for questioning following the raids.

Cazeneuve said a total of 115,000 policemen and soldiers had been mobilized following the November 13 multi-pronged attacks on Paris, which the Islamic State extremist group has claimed responsibility for.

“We don’t have yet a global picture of the number of people involved” in the attacks, Valls said.

France has urged greater efforts from EU partners and the rest of the international community against the Islamic State group.

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French President Francois Hollande stands outside at the Elysee Palace, in Paris. November 17, 2015. AP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hollande at the Elysee palace and pledged closer U.S. cooperation, after saying upon arriving in Paris on Monday night that the terrorist group and all who share its “despicable ideology” would be defeated.

Mutual defense clause

In response to the attacks, France has also for the first time ever invoked the European Union’s mutual defense clause, which states that EU countries have “an obligation of aid and assistance” if a member state is “the victim of armed aggression on its territory.”

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that his country expects assistance from other EU countries for military operations it is carrying out in Syria and elsewhere.

“France can no longer do everything – be at the same in the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Lebanon, be in the counterattack operation in the Levant and on top of that ensure with our own forces the security of the national territory,” Le Drian said in Brussels.

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