After Paris attacks, fugitive slipped through police dragnet

Manhunt Underway for Eighth Suspect in Paris Attacks

PARIS (AP) -- France launched "massive" air strikes on the Islamic State group's de-facto capital in Syria Sunday night, destroying a jihadi training camp and a munitions dump in the city of Raqqa, where Iraqi intelligence officials say the attacks on Paris were planned.

Twelve aircraft including 10 fighter jets dropped a total of 20 bombs in the biggest air strikes since France extended its bombing campaign against the extremist group to Syria in September, a Defense Ministry statement said. The jets launched from sites in Jordan and the Persian Gulf, in coordination with U.S. forces.

SEE ALSO: French warplanes strike Islamic State Syria bastion

Meanwhile, as police announced seven arrests and hunted for more members of the sleeper cell that carried out the Paris attacks that killed 129 people, French officials revealed to The Associated Press that several key suspects had been stopped and released by police after the attack.

The arrest warrant for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, calls him very dangerous and warns people not to intervene if they see him.

Yet police already had him in their grasp early Saturday, when they stopped a car carrying three men near the Belgian border. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Paris theater where so many died.

Three French police officials and a top French security official confirmed that officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. They spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to publicly disclose such details.

Tantalizing clues about the extent of the plot have emerged from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials told the AP that France and other countries had been warned on Thursday of an imminent attack.

An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting them in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi dispatch, which was obtained by the AP, provided no details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings "all the time" and "every day."

However, Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they also warned France about specific details: Among them, that the attackers were trained for this operation and sent back to France from Raqqa, the Islamic State's de-facto capital.

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After Paris attacks, fugitive slipped through police dragnet
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY French fire brigade members aid an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. Gunmen and bombers attacked busy restaurants, bars and a concert hall at locations around Paris on Friday, killing dozens of people in what a shaken President Francois Hollande described as an unprecedented terrorist attack. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH French fire brigade members aid an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. At least 30 people were killed in attacks in Paris and a hostage situation was under way at a concert hall in the French capital, French media reported on Friday. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People run after hearing what is believed to be explosions or gun shots near Place de la Republique square in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Spectators gather on the pitch of the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Two men evacuate the Place de la Republique square in Paris as a police officer looks on, after several shootings on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 13: Police survey the area of Boulevard Baumarchais after an attack in the French capital on November 13, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 18 people were killed in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
Rescuers rush to the scene following an attack in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A firefighter attend to an injured person lying on a stretcher near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated by bus, near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama departs the White House briefing room after delivering remarks on the recent violence taking place in Paris, France November 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. Gunfire and explosions erupted in the French capital with early casualty reports indicating at least 60 dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Football fans leave the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
supporters run in panic on the pitch during the International friendly match between France and Germany on November 13, 2015 at the Stade France in Paris, France.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Police are seen outside a cafe-restaurant in 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman stands behind a cordon blocking the street near the site of an attack in a restaurant in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium and another at a concert venue. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A victim lies on the ground covered by a white sheet (Rear L) as special police work at the attack scene rue Bichat, in central Paris, early on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall late on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters and rescuers evacuate injured people near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated following an attack at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts inspect the site of an attack outside the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, early on November 14, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. A number of people were killed and others injured in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama place flowers at a makeshift memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks at the Bataclan in Paris November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A pair of abandoned shoes seen left in the street near the Bataclan concert hall the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A member of the French fire brigade aids an injured individual near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. At least 30 people were killed in attacks in Paris and a hostage situation was under way at a concert hall in the French capital, French media reported on Friday. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
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The officials also said that a sleeper cell in France then met with the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan. There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said: 19 attackers and five others in charge of logistics and planning.

None of these details have been corroborated by officials of France or other Western intelligence agencies.

All these French and Iraqi security and intelligence officials spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation.

Abdeslam is one of three brothers believed to be involved; One who crossed with him into Belgium was later arrested, and another blew himself up inside the Bataclan theater after taking the audience hostage and firing on them repeatedly. It was the worst of Friday's synchronized attacks, leaving 89 fatalities and hundreds of people wounded inside.

Watch more coverage below:

Eyewitness Recounts Paris Terror Attack

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Its statement mocked France's air attacks on suspected IS targets in Syria and Iraq, and called Paris "the capital of prostitution and obscenity."

In all, three teams of attackers including seven suicide bombers attacked the national stadium, the concert hall and nearby nightspots. The attacks wounded 350 people, 99 of them seriously.

Abdeslam rented the black Volkswagen Polo used by the hostage-takers, another French security official said. A Brussels parking ticket found inside led police to at least one of the arrests in Belgium, a French police official said.

Three Kalashnikovs were found inside another car known to have been used in the attacks that was found in Montreuil, an eastern Parisian suburb, another a French police official said.

As many as three of the seven suicide bombers were French citizens, as was at least one of the men arrested in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussells, which authorities consider to be a focal point for extremists and fighters going to Syria from Belgium.

Watch more coverage:

Video Shows Moment Attackers Opened Fire in Bataclan

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon, speaking to The Associated Press by phone, said suspects arrested in Molenbeek had been stopped previously in Cambrai, France, "in a regular roadside check" but that police had had no suspicion about them at the time and they were let go quickly.

One, identified by the print on a recovered finger, was 29-year-old Frenchman Ismael Mostefai, who had a record of petty crime and had been flagged in 2010 for ties to Islamic radicalism, the Paris prosecutor said. A judicial official and lawmaker Jean-Pierre Gorges confirmed his identity.

Police detained Mostefai's father, a brother and other relatives Saturday night, and they were still being questioned Sunday, the judicial official said.

These details stoked fears of homegrown terrorism in France, which has exported more jihadis than any other in Europe, and seen many return from the fight. All three gunmen in the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris were French.

The attackers inside the Bataclan seemed quite young, according to one survivor, Julien Pearce, a journalist at Europe 1 radio who escaped by crawling onto the stage, and then out an exit door when the shooters paused to reload. Before making his final dash, he got a good look at one of the assailants, he said.

"He seemed very young. That's what struck me, his childish face, very determined, cold, calm, frightening," Pearce said.

Struggling to keep his country calm and united after an exceptionally violent year, President Francois Hollande met Sunday with opposition leaders - conservative rival and former President Nicolas Sarkozy as well as increasingly popular far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has used the attacks on Paris to advance her anti-immigrant agenda.

Watch more coverage below:

Bataclan Survivor: It's Easy to Succumb to Hate

Refugees fleeing war by the tens of thousands fear the Paris attacks could prompt Europe to close its doors, especially after police said a Syrian passport found next to one attacker's body suggested its owner passed through Greece into the European Union and on through Macedonia and Serbia last month.

Paris remains on edge amid three days of official mourning. French troops have deployed by the thousands and tourist sites remain shuttered in one of the most visited cities on Earth. Panic ensued Sunday night as police abruptly cleared hundreds of mourners from the famed Place de la Republique square, where police said firecrackers sparked a false alarm.

"Whoever starts running starts everyone else running," said Alice Carton, city council member who was at the square. "It's a very weird atmosphere. The sirens and screaming are a source of fear."

Officers also moved in, guns drawn, after mourners panicked near the Carillon bar, where crowds have laid flowers and lit candles in memory of the 15 people killed there.

"Lots of people started running and screaming from the Carillon...tables were overturned, plates shattered. It was a terrible panic," said Jonathan Dogan, who took shelter in a nearby hotel. "I think people are terrified," Dogan said.

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Greg Keller and Philippe Sotto reported from Paris. Other contributors include Lori Hinnant, Jamey Keaten, Raphael Satter, Angela Charlton and John Leicester in Paris; Raf Casert and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels; Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Danica Kirka in London and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin.

Watch raw footage below (VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED):

Video Shows Paris Firefight Outside Concert Hall

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