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France carries out raids over Paris attacks

Three held in counterterrorism operations in Calais, Toulouse, Paris and Grenoble as hunt continues for man on the run

Specialized counterterrorism units have launched coordinated raids across France and arrested at least nine people in connection with the deadly Paris attacks.

Monday's early-morning raids took place in Calais, Toulouse, Paris, Jeumont and Grenoble where police blocked streets and searched houses looking for suspects involved in Friday's attacks, which killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more.

Around 200 members of police tactical units surrounded an address in Toulouse, and ammunition and a large amount of cash were also found at one of the locations.

Twenty police vans were used in the raid in Jeumont on the French-Belgian border where a house was searched.

Earlier, French police released a photo of a fugitive who is on the run and described as too dangerous for anyone outside law enforcement to engage.  

The man, identified as Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, is one of three brothers believed to be involved in the killings in central Paris. He allegedly rented a black Volkswagen Polo used by a group of hostage takers who left at least 89 people dead inside the Bataclan concert hall, one official said.

Abdeslam was questioned by police and released hours after the Paris attacks, French officials told The Associated Press. 

He was one of three people in a car stopped by police Saturday morning, after authorities had already identified Abdeslam as the renter of the Volkswagen Polo abandoned at the scene of the attack. Police released him after checking his ID.

It is not clear why the local police did not take him into custody. 

One of Abdeslam's brothers has since been arrested in Belgium, and another brother detonated a suicide vest in the attack, authorities said.

Security officials indicated that there was an ongoing search operation in Brussels, the Belgian capital, for Abdeslam and other suspects.

Belgian officials said they had arrested seven people in Brussels after two Belgian-registered cars were discovered in Paris, both suspected of being used by attackers.

"I do not want any preachers of hatred on Belgian soil! There is no place for them in Belgium," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Twitter.

French authorities also announced Sunday that the number of dead from Friday's coordinated assaults rose to 129, after three additional people died in the hospital. About 350 others were injured.

As Paris on Sunday mourned the victims, including at a special Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, the city remained on edge.

French law enforcement officials reported that false alarms set off panic in several Paris neighborhoods, including Place de la Republique. One of the officials said a crowd in the plaza apparently panicked after hearing firecrackers. A French security official said someone had reached out to police in the plaza out of fear, and when officers arrived with weapons drawn, the crowd fled.

French authorities meanwhile said they have identified two more of of Friday's suicide attackers — one who blew himself up at the national stadium and another who attacked a restaurant in central Paris.

A judicial source speaking on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak publicly said the 20-year-old Frenchman police identified as one of the three suicide bombers to strike at the Stade de France stadium was Bilal Hadfi.

A 31-year-old identified by police as the suicide bomber who detonated his explosive vest on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris was named as Brahim Abdeslam, the source said. Abdeslam is the older brother of 26-year-old Saleh Abdeslam, 26, who is currently the subject of an international manhunt.

A third man, who died in the assault on the Bataclan, was identified earlier as Ismael Mostefai, 29, a Paris native. His detached finger was found overnight at the Bataclan, the scene of the bloodiest attack. French media described him as a French-born man of Algerian descent. Paris prosecutor François Molins said Mostefai had a security file for radicalization, adding that he had a criminal record but had not spent time in jail.

All seven assailants were wearing vests packed with explosives and died during the rampage.

Since Friday, Belgium has detained seven people suspected to be linked to the Paris attacks.

Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin said all museums in Paris and nearby towns will reopen on Monday, two days after they were closed due to heightened security following the Friday rampage.

A judicial source said Mostefai's father and brother were taken in for questioning, along with other people believed to be close to him.

Also on Sunday, it was reported that a Seat car suspected to be linked to Friday's massacre was found by police in Montreuil, a suburb nearly 4 miles east of the French capital. Several automatic weapons, of the sort used in the attacks, were found in the abandoned vehicle, a judicial source said.

French authorities believe the coordinated attacks — which targeted a concert hall and several bars and restaurants crowded with Friday night revelers — were planned abroad by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

ISIL has claimed responsibility for the assault. In a statement Saturday, the group said its fighters, armed with suicide-bomb vests and machine guns, carried out the attacks at locations that were carefully studied. The attack was designed to show France that it would remain a top target for the group as long as it continues its current polices, the statement continued. 

The leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad all issued statements denouncing the attacks, Deutsche Welle reported.  

French Muslim groups have also denounced the assault and expressed concern that it could prompt a backlash against members of the country's Islamic community.

The police investigation into the Paris massacres continued amid heightened tension and high security in the city. France has put thousands of soldiers onto the streets to reinforce police and other security personnel.

Meanwhile a G-20 summit in Turkey has taken on more urgency. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday urged the gathered world leaders to prioritize the fight against ISIL, saying the Paris attacks showed the time for words is over.

French President François Hollande pulled out of the summit to stay in Paris. On Saturday he vowed that France would be “merciless” in its efforts against “these barbarians from Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.

The investigation

President Barack Obama on Sunday pledged solidarity with France and said the U.S. would “redouble” its fight against ISIL.

It is believed that the attackers worked in three coordinated teams and that the seven who blew themselves up wore identical explosives vests. 

Throughout the weekend, investigators across Europe worked to identify the attackers and hunt for any accomplices.

German police arrested a man on Nov. 5 after automatic weapons, handguns and explosives were found in his vehicle during a routine check on a motorway.

Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's state premier, said there was reason to believe he had links to the attackers.

Refugees and borders

Greek authorities have confirmed that the person listed on a Syrian passport found next to a man who died in the attacks registered as a refugee on Oct. 3. Police said in a statement Sunday that the man, identified only as A.A., registered as entering Greece, but they said it was possible the passport changed hands since then. 

Serbian police say the person listed on the passport entered Serbia on Oct. 7 from Macedonia — part of a wave of asylum seekers crossing the Balkans and heading toward Western Europe.

If confirmed, any link between the attacks to people who entered Europe as part of a flow of refugees could have far-reaching political consequences.

Europe is already divided over how to handle the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Marie Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front party, has called for a tightening of the country's borders. "By spreading out migrants through the villages and towns of France, there is a fear that terrorists will take advantage of these population flows to hit out at us," she said after meeting the French president on Sunday.

And in a sign of potential divisions ahead, Poland said that the attacks in Paris meant it could not now take its share of refugees under a European Union relocation plan.

The victims

As French authorities begin to identify those involved in the attack, more details of the victims of the assault are becoming known. In a nod to Paris’ cosmopolitan standing, the victims include people from around the world — a U.S. citizen, one Swede, one Briton, two Belgians, two Romanians and two Mexicans are among those known to have died.

An American college student, Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, was among those killed. She was enrolled at California State University at Long Beach, a spokesman for the university said. A senior, she was studying for a semester at the Strate College of Design in France, according to school authorities.

Gonzalez was one of 19 people killed at La Belle Equipe, a bistro, where nine others were critically wounded.

Nick Alexander, a member of the entourage of California-based rock band Eagles of Death Metal, was identified in a statement from his family as one of at least 89 people who died when gunmen stormed the Bataclan during Friday night's show.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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