France’s neighbours responded to the ghastly Paris attacks with heightened security, even as the debate on Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis raged on.
Europe has been mostly free of land-based border checks for decades, but the attacks that killed at least 129 people prompted authorities in countries from Belgium to Hungary to re-impose spot inspections of vehicles.
As soldiers and paramilitary troops toting semi-automatic rifles patrolled outside the Colosseum and inside St. Peter’s Square in Italy, UK officials shut down a terminal of Britain’s No. 2 airport for hours after a man was spotted discarding what looked like a firearm. Three were arrested in Belgium and a man arrested in Germany earlier this month is suspected to be involved in the attacks.
Arrests in Belgium
In Belgium, police conducted raids and arrested three people on Saturday in raids in a poor, immigrant quarter of Brussels, pursuing emerging links between the attacks and an Islamist bastion in France’s northern neighbour.
Prime Minister Charles Michel said at least one of those held from the inner Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek was believed to have spent Friday evening in Paris, where two cars registered in Belgium were impounded close to scenes of some of the violence, including the Bataclan music hall.
A French prosecutor said a car hired in Belgium was linked to the attacks and that a Frenchman living in Brussels rented it and was later stopped early on Saturday at the Belgian border.
Proportional to its 11 million population, of whom half a million are Muslim, Belgium has been the European country which has contributed the most foreign fighters to the civil war in Syria -- over 300 by official estimates a year ago -- and it has figured in many Islamist attacks and plots across the continent.
An arrest in Germany and debates on migrant policy
German police arrested a man on November 5 after machine-guns, hand guns and explosives were found in his vehicle during a routine check on a motorway.
Bavaria’s state premier Horst Seehofer said there was reason to believe he had links to the attackers, and that the case “shows how important it is for us to have some clarity on who is in our country”.
But both interior minister Thomas de Maiziere and economy minister Sigmar Gabriel of Germany have warned against making any hasty links between the Paris attacks and the refugee debate.
In a parallel development, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence services on Sunday called for “orderly procedures” regarding the handling of the daily entry of thousands of refugees to Germany, saying extremists could exploit the sometimes chaotic migration situation.
The Paris attacks have fuelled a debate in Germany on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming approach to refugees and on how to get a better overview of the people entering the country.
Europe is grappling with its worst refugee crisis since World War Two, and Germany has been taking in the bulk of some 1 million people expected to arrive this year.
While German police are currently conducting passport checks at border crossings and in border areas, thousands of refugees are thought to be coming into the country without any checks.
Following a request from France, Germany ramped up border controls, focusing on road, rail and air traffic from France to Germany, said interior minister de Maiziere.
The refugee with a Syrian passport
Greek authorities have confirmed that a man who died in the attacks with a Syrian passport found next to him had registered as a refugee on the of island of Leros in October.
French police said the passport was found “near the body of one of the attackers” after the Bataclan carnage, and had also asked Greece to check on the fingerprints of another man.
Earlier information from a Greek police source that he too had registered on Leros was later refuted.
The passport is still being checked, but it indicates the attackers may have had links to Syria and could have been among the thousands of people that have fled the country’s civil war for Europe.
Poland’s problem with EU refugee policy
Poland’s new government has responded to the Paris attacks by demanding security guarantees before accepting its allocation of refugees under a European Union quota system, and saying the carnage puts the EU’s entire migrant policy in question.
Saturday’s comments seemed to align the new government of the conservative and eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party with others in eastern Europe who bitterly oppose the welcome given to the refugees, notably by Germany, Austria and Sweden.
“The attacks mean the necessity of an even deeper revision of the European policy towards the migrant crisis,” said Konrad Szymanski, who becomes Poland’s European affairs minister on Monday.
“We’ll accept (refugees only) if we have security guarantees. This is a key condition, and today a question mark has been put next to it all around Europe,” he added, without elaborating.
France identifies one attacker
Meanwhile, French authorities have said that the attackers appeared to be split into three coordinated teams armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and high explosives.
French police have identified one of the assailants in the brazen Paris attacks as a 29-year-old Frenchman, Omar Ismail Mostefai.
Mostefai blew himself up at the Bataclan concert hall, the scene of the bloodiest attack where 89 people were killed.
French police also found a black Seat car which was used by gunmen who fired at people in restaurants. The car was found in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, police said on Sunday.