French police have recovered a suicide belt believed to have been discarded by fugitive Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam. The explosive device was found in a dustbin in the Paris suburb of Montrouge, close to where the 26-year-old is thought to have been during the attacks, based on phone location data.
Sky News reports that the abandoned suicide belt has "the same configuration" as the suicide belts used by other terrorists involved in the coordinated attacks on 13 November that left 130 people dead, according to a police source.
Seven suicide bombers died in Paris: two at the Bataclan concert venue, three at the Stade de France, one at a cafe on Boulevard Voltaire, and one during a police raid at an apartment in Saint-Denis. The jihadis who died in the attacks wore explosive vests to blow themselves up.
In a statement released the day after the assaults, Islamic State spoke of attacks in the 10th, 11th and 18th arrondissements by eight "brothers wearing explosive belts". However, there was no attack on the 18th district.
Salah Abdeslam is suspected as one of three brothers involved in the massacre, although it is believed he abandoned carrying out his part of the suicide bombing. According to his brother Mohamed, Salah may have abandoned the device after deciding to "not pursue it to the end".
"It's more than my hope, it's my conviction. Salah is very intelligent, I think that at the very last minute, Salah decided to turn back," Mohamed Abdeslam told Belgian television RTBF. "He may have seen something, heard something that wasn't what he expected and he may have decided not to pursue it to the end."
It has been suggested by police investigating the case that Abdeslam may have had a technical problem with his belt after the detonator failed, prompting him to abandon it and flee.
Salah's brother, 31-year-old Brahim, died after his suicide belt exploded outside the Comptoir Voltaire cafe, injuring 15 people. The pair, who are both from Belgium, were reportedly heard by friends having an argument the night before the massacres. One friend told television channel France 2 the disagreement appeared to be over money. "I heard an argument, a massive argument. I leaned against the window and I saw the two brothers. They were there. They were fighting each other."
According to security and intelligence experts, the suicide vests, normally associated with bombings in the Middle East, were made by a highly skilled professional. Francois Molins, the Paris anti-terror prosecutor in charge of the investigation, said the vests used in the attacks were composed of acetone peroxide, a chemical explosive easy to produce by amateurs.
The suspected explosives expert behind the Paris attacks handed himself in to police on 18 November. Mohammed Khoualed, who is from Roubaix in northern France, is thought to have assembled the explosives and detonators in the suicide vests used by the terrorists.
The 19-year-old turned himself in to police in the northern city of Lille on Wednesday (18 November) evening, France3 regional TV station reported. He surrendered following a raid on his home in which C4 explosives were found. It had been feared he had teamed up with Salah Abdelslam and the pair were on the run together.
Europe's most wanted man, Abdeslam has been the subject of an international manhunt since the Paris attacks. He was the focus of police raids in Brussels on 23 November, but it was revealed in a press conference that police had not been able to intercept him. While around 2,000 police officers have been assigned the task of finding him, it is also believed that he is being pursued by Isis after failing to follow through with the bomb attack, including his own "martyrdom".
The most recent report on Abdeslam has him located in Germany after police received a tip-off he was in the area of Minden and Luebbecke, but officers said there was no sign of him. Police are continuing to focus their investigations on Brussels, which remains on maximum alert.
Meanwhile, Salah's brother Mohamed has urged the fugitive to give himself up, saying: "That way he can give us the answers we seek, our family and the families of the victims. We would rather see Salah in prison than in the cemetery."