The international manhunt for Salah Abdeslam crossed into Germany on 24 November, with police investigating a report that the fugitive Paris attacker was seen in a rural area in the north of the country. Security forces were deployed in the Minden-Luebbecke area, near Hannover, after authorities received a tip from a member of the public that the 26-year-old was hiding out at a local address.
Police in nearby Bielefeld said an extensive search did not immediately yield any evidence of Abdeslam's presence but the operation was continuing. Abdeslam became Europe's most wanted man after the 13 November massacre in Paris. Authorities have alleged the Belgian- Moroccan was a member of the jihadi gang that killed 130 people in series of coordinated shootings and bombings. His elder brother, Brahim, blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire cafe in the French capital.
Abdeslam is instead thought to have backed out of the murderous plot last minute. Earlier this week, an explosive belt was found amid a pile of rubbish in the southern Paris district of Montrouge. The device was of the same type used by other suicide bombers that carried out the carnage, containing the same key ingredient, triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, a highly unstable explosive, Le Monde reported.
Police believe it was abandoned by Abdeslam, whose telephone was traced to Montrouge the night of the attacks. The Islamic State (Isis) group, which claimed responsibility for the killings, initially boasted its militants had targeted the 18th arrondissement of Paris, as well as other locations across the city, but no incidents took place there.
Meanwhile, the Italian government has confirmed that the fugitive jihadist passed through the country in the summer, boarding a ferry from the southern port of Bari to Greece on 1 August. He was reportedly accompanied by Ahmad Dahmani, another Belgian arrested in Turkey last week in connection with the Paris attacks.
The pair made a return trip to Bari on 5 August and are later understood to have crossed to France by car. "When they made the crossing they were free citizens, not sought-after terrorists," Italy's Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, told AP.
In other developments, France said more than 1,230 searches had been carried out leading to 124 people being handed preliminary charges and 230 heavy weapons being seized since a state of emergency was declared in the aftermaths of the attacks. Investigators were also trying to understand if a man seen in the company of Abdelhamid Abaaoud the night of 13 November was the same person who detonated a suicide vest in a Saint-Denis flat days later.
Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of the Paris terrorist plot, and the unknown man were captured on security camera at a Metro station in the Suburb of Montreuil. The Belgian Islamist was one of three people killed on 18 November as security forces led siege to the Saint-Denis apartment he had been hiding in.