Just after dawn on Saturday, the Associated Press reports, French police questioned and released Saleh Abdeslam, now the focus of an international manhunt, after pulling him and two other men over on their way to the French border with Belgium.
It’s not clear why the local French police, known as gendarmes, didn’t take Abdeslam into custody. They checked his identification, but it’s not known whether they had been informed of his apparent connection to the attacks.
“It was a simple check. There was no lookout notice at the time of the traffic stop,” a French police official told the AP.
Asked whether Abdeslam’s name had been shared over police networks by then, the official simply said: “I have no explanation.”
Hours later, Belgian police detained three men in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, including the two who were stopped with Abdeslam, a French resident of Belgium. He was, however, no longer with them.
On Thursday last week, a day before Islamic State militants killed 129 people in Paris, senior Iraqi intelligence officials sent a dispatch warning France of an impending attack. According to the dispatch, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, the attack was ordered by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on members of the U.S.-led coalition (as well as Iran and Russia) fighting against the Islamist group in Iraq and Syria:
“We have recovered information from our direct sources in the Islamic State terrorist organization about the orders issued by terrorist ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ directing all members of the organization to implement an international attack that includes all coalition countries, in addition to Iran and the Russian Federation, through bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days. We do not have information on the date and place for implementing these terrorist operations at this time,” the Iraqi dispatch read in part.
A senior French security official said that French intelligence receives such warnings “all the time” and “every day.”
“During the last month we have disrupted a certain number of attacks in our territory,” Bernard Bajolet, the head of the French spy service, said during a public appearance at George Washington University two weeks ago, the AP reports. “But this doesn’t mean that we will be able all the time to disrupt such attacks.”