EU to rush through Schengen reforms by end of year after Paris attacks
BRUSSELS // The European Union agreed on Friday to rush through reforms to the passport-free Schengen zone by the end of the year, amid growing concerns about border security in the wake of the Paris attacks.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced the plan as he and his EU counterparts agreed in crisis talks to “immediately” tighten checks on Schengen’s external borders while they wait for deeper changes.
“It’s a crucial change,” he said.
“The European Commission has agreed to present, by the end of the year, a plan to reform the Schengen border code to allow systematic and obligatory checks at all external borders for all travellers, including those who benefit from free movement.”
It came as France said the death toll from the ISIL-claimed attacks on November 13 had risen to 130 after one of the injured died in hospital.
Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Friday that a third body had been found following a police raid on Wednesday at the flat where the ringleader was hiding. It was identified as Hasna Aitboulahcen, 26, the female cousin of Belgian-Moroccan militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud who masterminded the attacks.
One of the other two bodies was confirmed on Thursday as belonging to Abaaoud, 28. The identity of the other body has not been announced.
Also on Friday, a police source said that Aitboulahcen – who was formally identified through her fingerprints – did not die in a suicide bombing as previously thought.
Prosecutors said on the day of Wednesday’s raid in Saint-Denis in the north of the capital that a woman had detonated an explosives vest and died.
But the police source said the suicide bomber was in fact a man, not a woman.
French president Francois Hollande on Friday thanked the king of Morocco for the “effective help” that his country gave Paris after the attacks.
It came after police sources said on Thursday that Moroccan intelligence had helped put French investigators on the trail of Abaaoud.
The UN Security Council was to vote late on Friday on a French-drafted resolution that would authorise countries to “take all necessary measures” to fight ISIL.
French ambassador Francois Delattre indicated that the measure would garner unanimous support in the council, saying there is a “good spirit, a good vibe around the table”.
The draft resolution does not provide any legal basis for military action and does not invoke chapter seven of the UN charter that authorises the use of force.
But French diplomats maintain that it will provide important international political support to the anti-ISIL campaign that has been ramped up since the attacks in Paris a week ago.
The draft resolution calls on member states “that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law ... on the territory under the control of ISIL, also known as Daesh, in Syria and Iraq”.
The text urges governments to “redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts” committed by ISIL and other extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda.
France’s bid for UN backing came after Russia submitted a revised text of a separate draft resolution that calls for fighting ISIL with Syria’s consent.
That draft has been rejected by the United States, Britain and France, who are refusing to cooperate with president Bashar Al Assad’s regime, who they accuse of fomenting extremism by resorting to brutality.
Also on Friday, the lawyer for Abaaoud’s father said her client regretted that his son had died in Wednesday’s shoot-out with police.
“Omar Abaaoud regrets that his son was not taken alive,” said Nathalie Gallant.
“My client is extremely calm and expected that things would end badly. He only feels anger and disgust towards his son.”
Omar, who now lives in Morocco and suffers from “severe depression”, Ms Gallant said, “wishes that Abdelhamid could have faced questioning to understand how he took such a bad turn”.
He is also eager to hear the fate of his younger son Younes, whom Abdelhamid brought with him to Syria in January 2014 when the boy was only 13.
As France struggles to recover from the November 13 attacks, promoters said on Friday that ticket sales for concerts in Paris had fallen by around 80 per cent in the past week.
“It’s a wave of shock,” said a spokesman for Prodiss, the music industry producers group, saying the figure was based on data from 20 of the city’s biggest promoters.
Most of the victims of the attacks were killed at a concert by the US group Eagles of Death Metal at the Batalcan venue in eastern Paris.
Meanwhile, global toy giant Toys R Us said on Friday it had “asked its store directors in France to remove 23 toys that looked like guns and weapons”.
“This decision was taken in light of the Paris attacks,” the group said. “It was taken because these toys could be misinterpreted as real weapons and could be a source of confusion for police forces.”
* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by Associated Press
Updated: November 20, 2015 04:00 AM