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‘I Was A Suicide Bomber’: Paris Suspect Charged In Belgium

By Alastair Macdonald and John Irish

BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – The prime surviving suspect for the Nov. 13 Paris attacks planned to blow himself up at a sports stadium with fellow Islamic State militants but changed his mind, he told Belgian investigators on Saturday.

The admission by Salah Abdeslam came a day after he was shot in the leg and captured during a police raid in Brussels, ending an intensive four-month manhunt.

“He wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and … backed out,” said the lead French investigator, Francois Molins, quoting Abdeslam’s statement to a magistrate in Brussels before he was transferred to a secure jail in Bruges.

The gun and bomb attacks on the stadium, bars and a concert hall killed 130 people and marked the deadliest militant assault in Europe since 2004.

Molins told reporters in Paris that people should treat with caution initial statements by the 26-year-old French national. But his capture and apparent urge to talk marked a major breakthrough for investigators after the trail had seemed to go cold.

Abdeslam’s lawyer said he admitted being in Paris during the attacks but gave no details. He told reporters his client, born and raised by Moroccan immigrants in Brussels, had cooperated with investigators but would fight extradition to France.

Legal experts said his challenge was unlikely to succeed but would buy him weeks, possibly months, to prepare his defense.

Belgian prosecutors charged Abdeslam and a man arrested with him with “participation in terrorist murder”.

Abdeslam’s elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar, was among the suicide bombers. Salah’s confession suggested he was the 10th man mentioned in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks, after which police found one suicide vest abandoned in garbage.

Abdeslam’s family, who had urged him to give himself up, said through their lawyer that they had a “sense of relief”.

Authorities hope the arrest may help disrupt other militant cells that Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said were certainly “out there” and planning further violence. French security services stepped up their measures at frontier crossings after a global warning from Interpol that other fugitives might try to move country.

“We’ve won a battle against the forces of ignorance but the struggle isn’t over,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.

The case has raised tensions with France but Michel and French President Francois Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit when Abdeslam was arrested, praised each other’s security services. Hollande was attending an international soccer match at the Stade de France when the bombers struck.

 

Fight Risk

A man using false papers in the names of Amine Choukri and Monir Ahmed Alaaj was also charged with terrorist murder. As Choukri, he was documented by German police in the city of Ulm in October when he was stopped in a car with Abdeslam. French prosecutor Molins said Abdeslam traveled widely to prepare the attacks.

A third man in the house when the pair were arrested was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization. He and a woman who was present were charged with concealing criminals.

Police had sought Abdeslam since he called two acquaintances in Belgium in a panic, hours after the attacks, to have them collect him and bring him home. Suspected to be as far away as Syria, it seems he was in Brussels all or most of the time.

Failure to complete his mission could have limited his access to any support from Syria-based Islamic State; the chief Belgian investigator on the case said he had instead relied on a network of friends, family and neighbors with whom he had a history of drug trafficking and petty crime.

Security agencies’ difficulties in penetrating some Muslim communities, particularly in pursuit of Belgium’s unusually high number of citizens fighting in Syria, have been a key factor in the inquiry.

 

PARIS RELIEF

As Parisians, and families of the victims, voiced relief at the arrest, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after an emergency cabinet meeting that a trial could answer questions for those who suffered in the attacks.

“Abdeslam will have to answer to French justice for his acts,” he said. “It is an important blow to the terrorist organization Daesh (Islamic State) in Europe.”

A trickle of people came to a makeshift memorial in central Paris, near the scene of much of the bloodshed, to pay their respects.

“It’s really a relief,” said Emilien Bouthillier, who works in the neighborhood. “I can’t wait for Belgium to transfer and return him to France so he can be tried the way he should be.”

Friday’s armed swoop came after Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found at an apartment following a bloody raid on Tuesday in which an Algerian was shot dead and police officers wounded.

Later, local media said, a tip-off and a tapped telephone led police to a mobile phone number used by Abdeslam and, by triangulating the device’s location, established where he was.

At his nearby newspaper store, a vendor named Dominique said Abdeslam had been well known and liked in the community: “He was a very nice lad before,” he said. “How can things go this far?”

 

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Clement Rossignol, Hortense de Roffignac, Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Miranda Alexander-Webber in Bruges; writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Photo: Belgian police officers secure the departure of Salah Abdeslam, the most-wanted fugitive from November’s Paris attacks, from the federal police headquarters in Brussels, March 19, 2016, after he was arrested after a shootout with police in Brussels on Friday.    REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Islamic State Video Purports To Show Paris Attackers, Threatens Britain

CAIRO (Reuters) — A video published on Sunday by the media center of Islamic State purported to show images and last statements of nine of the people who took part in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people on Nov. 13.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage, which showed the men delivering anti-Western diatribes and concluded with an apparent threat to attack Britain.

The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the video. There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office, and Reuters was not immediately able to reach officials at the Interior Ministry.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House had no comment.

Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Global Partners, which monitors militants’ social media, said the “video meets all the right criteria of an authentic and official ISIS release.”

The video was uploaded to Islamic State’s official Telegram channel and showed some of the attackers wearing camouflage fatigues in a desert location, before the time of the Paris attacks.

Several of them were shown beheading hostages of the ultra-hardline militant group, a tactic it has frequently used.

“These are the last messages of the nine lions of the caliphate who were mobilized from their lairs to make a whole country, France, get down on its knees,” a narrator in the video said.

On the night of Nov. 13, nine men, split into three groups, attacked a sports stadium, a string of cafes and a concert hall. An arrest warrant has been issued for another man, Salah Abdeslam, who fled to Belgium the following day.

The attackers are identified in the video by noms de guerre referring to their nationalities – three French, four Belgian and two Iraqis, referred to as Ali al-Iraqi and Ukashah al-Iraqi.

The two could be the suicide bombers who tried to attack the Stade de France stadium. They carried Syrian passports assumed to be forged and could not be formally identified. Seven other dead attackers have already been identified.

The video showed footage of British Prime Minister David Cameron expressing solidarity with the French people after the attacks, and concluded by flashing a slogan on the screen saying: “Whoever stands in the ranks of kafir (infidels) will be a target for our swords.”

A spokesman for Cameron had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Matthias Blamont; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washigton and William Schomberg in London; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by David Clarke, Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

Photo: People mourn outside “Le Petit Cambodge” and “Le Carillon” restaurants a week after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, in Paris, France, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

With Climate At ‘Breaking Point’, Leaders Urge Breakthrough In Paris

By Bruce Wallace and Alister Doyle

PARIS (Reuters) – World leaders launched an ambitious attempt on Monday to hold back rising temperatures, with the United States and China leading calls for the climate summit in Paris to mark a decisive turn in the fight against global warming.

In a series of opening addresses to the U.N. talks, heads of state and government exhorted each other to find common cause in two weeks of bargaining to steer the global economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels. French President Francois Hollande said the world was at a “breaking point”.

The leaders arrived in Paris with high expectations and armed with promises to act. After decades of struggling negotiations and the failure of a summit in Copenhagen six years ago, some form of agreement – likely to be the strongest global climate pact yet – appears all but assured by mid-December.

“What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it,” said U.S. President Barack Obama, one of the first leaders to speak at the summit.

The leaders gathered in a vast conference center at Le Bourget airfield. In all, 195 countries are part of the unwieldy negotiating process, with a variety of leadership styles and ideologies that has made consensus elusive in the past.

Key issues, notably how to divide the global bill to pay for a shift to renewable energy, are still contentious.

“Climate justice demands that the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a key player because of his country’s size and its heavy dependence on coal.

One difference this time may be the partnership between the United States and China, the two biggest carbon emitters, who between them account for almost 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute think-tank.

Once far apart on climate issues, they agreed in 2014 to jointly kick-start a transition away from fossil fuels, each at its own speed and in its own way.

The United States and China “have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” Obama said after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit.

“Tackling climate change is a shared mission for mankind,” Xi responded in his own remarks.

Obama said the two countries would work together at the summit to achieve an agreement that moves toward a low-carbon global economy this century and “robust” financial support for developing countries adapting to climate change.

Flying home to Rome on the papal plane after a visit to Africa, Pope Francis told journalists: “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”

Most scientists say failure to agree on strong measures in Paris would doom the world to ever-hotter average temperatures, deadlier storms, more frequent droughts and rising sea levels as polar ice caps melt.

SMOG OVER CHINA AND INDIA

Facing such alarming projections, the leaders of nations responsible for about 90 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have come bearing pledges to reduce their national carbon output, through different measures at different rates.

As the summit opened in Paris, the capitals of the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog, with Beijing on an “orange” pollution alert, the second-highest level.

The deal will mark a momentous step in the often frustrating quest for global agreement, albeit one that on its own is not believed to be enough to prevent the earth’s temperatures from rising past a damaging threshold. How and when nations should review their goals – and then set higher, more ambitious ones – is another issue to be resolved at the talks.

“The Paris conference is not the finishing line but a new starting point,” Xi said.

The gathering is being held in a somber city. Security has been tightened after Islamist militants killed 130 people on Nov. 13, and Hollande said he could not separate “the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming”. Leaders must face both challenges, leaving their children “a world freed of terror” as well as one “protected from catastrophes”, he said.

On the eve of the summit, an estimated 785,000 people around the world joined the biggest day of climate change activism in history, telling world leaders there was “No Planet B” in the fight against global warming.

Signaling their determination to resolve the most intractable points, senior negotiators sat down on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, to begin their work.

The last attempt to get a global deal collapsed in chaos and acrimony in Copenhagen in 2009.

Anxious to avoid a re-run of the Copenhagen disaster, major powers have tried this time to smooth some of the bumps in the way of an agreement before they arrive.

The presidents, prime ministers and princes were making their cameo appearances at the outset of the conference rather than swooping in at the end.

The old goal of seeking a legally binding international treaty, certain to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, has been replaced by a system of national pledges to reduce emissions.

Some are presented as best intentions, others as measures legally enforced by domestic laws and regulations.

WHO WILL PAY?

If a signed deal now appears likely, so too is the prospect that it will not be enough to prevent the world’s average temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That is widely viewed as a threshold for dangerous and potentially catastrophic changes in the planet’s climate system.

Obama called for an “enduring framework for human progress”, one that would compel countries to steadily ramp up their carbon-cutting goals and openly track progress against them.

The U.S.-China agreement has been a balm for the main source of tension that characterized previous talks, in which the developing world argued that countries which had grown rich by industrializing on fossil fuels should pay the cost of shifting all economies to a renewable energy future.

The question of how richer nations can help cover the cost of switching to cleaner energy sources and offset climate-related damage must still be resolved,

A handful of the world’s richest entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, have pledged to double the $10 billion they collectively spend on clean energy research and development in the next five years.

“The climate bill has finally come due. Who will pay?” said Baron Waqa, president of the Pacific island nation Nauru.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, John Irish and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Roche)

Protester Amy Walburn holds a butterfly-shaped placard in front of the Sydney Opera House during a rally held ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Sydney’s central business district, Australia November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Reed

World Leaders Launch Bid For Climate Breakthrough In Paris

By Bruce Wallace and Alister Doyle

PARIS (Reuters) — World leaders launched an ambitious attempt on Monday to hold back the earth’s rising temperatures, with French President Francois Hollande saying the world was at a “breaking point” in the fight against global warming.

Some 150 heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, will urge each other to find common cause in two weeks of bargaining to steer the global economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

They arrived at United Nations climate change talks in Paris armed with promises and accompanied by high expectations. After decades of struggling negotiations and the failure of a previous summit in Copenhagen six years ago, some form of landmark agreement appears all but assured by mid-December.

Warnings from climate scientists, demands from activists and exhortations from religious leaders like Pope Francis, coupled with major advances in cleaner energy sources like solar power, have all added to pressure to cut the carbon emissions held responsible for warming the planet.

Most scientists say failure to agree on strong measures in Paris would doom the world to ever-hotter average temperatures, bringing with them deadlier storms, more frequent droughts and rising sea levels as polar ice caps melt.

Facing such alarming projections, the leaders of nations responsible for about 90 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have come bearing pledges to reduce their national carbon output, though by different rates.

For some, it has already become a pressing issue at home. As the summit opened in Paris, the capitals of the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog, with regulators in Beijing asking factories to limit output and halting construction work.

Success in agreeing what would be by far the strongest international pact yet to commit both rich and developing nations to the fight against global warming “is not yet achieved, but it is within reach,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, chairman of the meeting, told delegates.

On the eve of the summit, hundreds of thousands of people from Australia to Paraguay joined the biggest day of climate change activism in history, telling world leaders there was “No Planet B” in the fight against global warming.

“To resolve the climate crisis, good will, statements of intent are not enough,” Hollande said. “We are at breaking point.”

SMOOTHING THE BUMPS

The leaders gathered in a vast conference center at Le Bourget airfield, near where Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis aircraft in 1927 after making the first solo trans-Atlantic flight, a feat that helped bring nations closer.

Whether a similar spirit of unity can be incubated in Le Bourget this time is uncertain. In all, 195 countries are part of the unwieldy negotiating process, espousing a variety of leadership styles and ideologies that has made consensus elusive in the past. Key issues, notably how to divide the global bill to pay for a shift to renewable energy, are still contentious.

Signaling their determination to resolve the most intractable points, senior negotiators sat down on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, to begin thrashing out an agreement. They hope to avoid the last-minute scramble and all-nighters that marked past meetings.

The last attempt to get a global deal collapsed in chaos and acrimony in Copenhagen in 2009. It ended with Obama forcing his way into a closed meeting of China and other countries on the gathering’s last day and emerging with a modest concession to limit rising emissions until 2020 that they attempted to impose on the rest of the world.

Anxious to avoid a re-run of the Copenhagen disaster, major powers have tried this time to smooth some of the bumps in the way of an agreement before they arrive.

The presidents, prime ministers and princes will make their cameo appearances at the outset of the conference rather than swooping in at the end.

In a somber city where security has been tightened after Islamist militant attacks killed 130 people on Nov. 13, Hollande said he could not separate “the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming.” Leaders must face both challenges, leaving their children “a world freed of terror” as well as one “protected from catastrophes”.

Each leader is allowed a brief opening speech, just a few minutes long. The goal is to build momentum for consensus and avoid the messiness of past talks when diplomats put off the hard political choices until their bosses arrived.

NEW APPROACH

But there are other significant changes in approach.

The old goal of seeking a legally binding international treaty, certain to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, has been replaced by a system of national pledges to reduce emissions.

Some are presented as best intentions, others as measures legally enforced by domestic laws and regulations.

The biggest difference may be the partnership between the United States and China. The world’s two biggest carbon emitters, once on opposite sides on climate issues, agreed in 2014 to jointly kick-start a transition away from fossil fuels, each at their own speed and in their own way.

The United States and China “have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” Obama said after meeting Xi. “Our leadership on this issue has been absolutely vital.”

That partnership has been a balm for the main source of tension that characterized previous talks, in which the developing world argued that countries that grew rich by industrializing on fossil fuels should pay the cost of shifting all economies to a renewable energy future.

Now even China, once a leading voice of that club, has agreed to contribute to an internationally administered Green Climate Fund that hopes to dispense $100 billion a year after 2020 as a way to finance the developing world’s shift towards renewables.

If a signed deal now appears likely, so too is the prospect that it will not be enough to prevent the world’s average temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

That is widely viewed as a threshold for dangerous and potentially catastrophic changes in the planet’s climate system.

Instead, the summit will produce a “long-term framework” for additional reductions down the road, Obama said in a Facebook posting on Sunday, with “targets set by each nation, but transparent enough to be verified by other nations.”

How and when nations should review their goals — and then set higher, more ambitious ones — must still be hammered out.

One sign of optimism was that Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, a key player because of his country’s size and its heavy dependence on coal, will announce an international solar alliance of more than 100 sun-kissed countries, with the aim of raising India’s profile on solar power.

A handful of the world’s richest entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, have pledged to double the $10 billion they collectively spend on clean energy research and development in the next five years.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, John Irish; Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the start of the climate summit in Paris November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque