Security forces staged massive raids Monday in Belgium and France as police closed in on a radical Muslim Belgian who has been identified as the ringleader of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
A three-hour battle raged Monday in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, said Mayor Francoise Schepmans. Explosions rocked the neighborhood, which was filled with heavily armed security forces. Officials would not comment upon the results of the siege.
French officials said Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, of Molenbeek, is the suspected leader of the Paris terrorist attacks that left at least 129 people dead. Abaaoud had been fighting with ISIS in Syria, officials said. Officials are also connecting Abaaoud to an August attack on a high-speed train near Paris and a failed plot to attack a church near Paris.
Police also revealed that another suspect in the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was stopped by police at the French- Belgium border early Saturday, but was soon released. Police said Abdeslam rented the car that took the terrorists to the Bataclan theater on Friday.
Also Monday, French police announced they uncovered an “arsenal” of weapons as part of 168 pre-dawn raids on suspected Islamic terrorists. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 104 people are under house arrest and 31 weapons were seized.
“It’s just a start,” Cazeneuve said, “these operations are going to continue, the response of the Republic will be huge, will be total. The one who targets the Republic, the Republic will catch him, will be implacable.”