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Authorities Conduct Widespread Investigation Into Paris Terror Attacks


We turn now to the investigation into the Paris attacks, and NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here for that. Carrie, what are authorities in France doing right now to find the people who planned and carried out these shootings and bombings?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: So French President Hollande says these attacks were planned in Syria, organized in Belgium and carried out in France. It's not just a matter, Ari, of gathering forensics from the crime scenes in Paris. There's a lot more going on here behind the scenes.

SHAPIRO: And it sounds like globally behind the scenes. We know in Brussels, Belgium, there was a very active manhunt - might've involved this eighth attacker, the man who escaped. Tell us about where authorities are looking for this man.

JOHNSON: Here's what we know, Ari. Seven of the attackers in Paris died on Friday. Six of them had detonated suicide vests, and the other one died in a shootout with police. But one man, a man named Salah Abdeslam, apparently escaped. He was stopped by French authorities in a car over the weekend. They looked at his papers, but they didn't make any connection. He was allowed to leave. Earlier today, there was a big standoff in Belgium. Our colleague Peter Kenyon was there for hours outside the building. The thinking was Salah might have been holed up in a building there in that working-class neighborhood. But the standoff ended with no arrests, so the manhunt continues not just in France but across Europe now.

SHAPIRO: What about other accomplices and people who may have organized the assault on Paris from - I don't know - as far away as Syria, perhaps?

JOHNSON: Our sad experience with these kinds of attacks is that authorities are looking not just for the people who did the shooting or the exploding but people who may have helped - accomplices - the man or woman who may have made the suicide vest, for instance. And more broadly, our colleague Dina Temple-Raston's been reporting on two other figures who may be linked to these attacks as masterminds or organizers of some sort.

One man is a French national by the name of Salim Benghalem. He's the main focus of the Syrian connection to these Friday Paris attacks. And he's the boss of a man named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who's a Belgian national. And Dina says he's believed to be one of the people who ordered the attacks. Both of these men, Ari, are in Syria.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about here in the United States for a moment. CIA director John Brennan made some rare public remarks about the self-described Islamic State today at a think tank. What did Brennan have to say?

JOHNSON: The CIA director says the group known as ISIS has activated a group inside itself bent on external operations. That means, Ari, targeting outside of Syria and Iraq to the West and elsewhere. And Brennan says they've gotten pretty sophisticated in terms of pulling off multiple coordinated attacks of the sort we saw in Paris and in hiding their tracks. Here's more of what John Brennan had to say.


JOHN BRENNAN: This is not something that was done in a matter of days. This was something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course, I think, of several months in terms of making sure that they had the operatives, the weapons, the explosives with the suicide belts. And so I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline.

SHAPIRO: And apropos of that, Carrie, there is a new video out today. And in that video, ISIS - which Brennan just referred to as ISIL - says it wants to attack Washington, amongst other targets. What is the response from law enforcement about that?

JOHNSON: I reached out to the FBI and the Homeland Security Department today, and they both say there's still no specific or credible threat any place here in the United States. But FBI agents since Friday night have been directed to focus on priority cases. That means not just electronic surveillance but, in some cases, physical surveillance too. The challenges for U.S. and French officials - that they had some general warning about an attack in Europe for the past several months, but they didn't have enough evidence to piece it all together and disrupt this plot in Paris.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.