Greece: Syrian terrorist passed through country as migrant
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Greece: Syrian terrorist passed through country as migrant

Authorities checking identities of attackers; European leaders warn against blaming all asylum seekers for evil of terrorists

Syrian refugees land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos in an inflatable dingy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey on September 3, 2015. (AFP/Angelos Tzortzinis)
Syrian refugees land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos in an inflatable dingy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey on September 3, 2015. (AFP/Angelos Tzortzinis)

A Syrian passport found by police at the scene of the mass shooting in a Paris concert hall belonged to an asylum seeker who registered on a Greek island in October, a Greek minister said Saturday.

“We confirm that the Syrian passport holder came through the Greek island of Leros on October 3 where he was registered under EU rules,” said a statement issued by Nikos Toskas, the minister for citizen protection.

French police said the document was found “near the body of one of the attackers” in the investigation into the main attack of Friday’s carnage, at the Bataclan concert hall, where 82 people were killed.

The authenticity of the passport was being checked, but its discovery indicates a possible Syrian connection which was a working hypothesis for investigators after assailants hit six separate locations in Paris.

Officials are not ruling out that the passport changed hands before the attacks.

“The most logical assumption is that it’s the same person, sent on a mission to Europe,” said a European security expert speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If this is established, it would be the first such case. In any event, this proves that the unchecked flow poses an unequalled challenge for European security. We simply don’t know who is coming through,” the expert added.

European security officials had long feared that jihadists could take advantage of the mass migration influx, mainly from war-torn Syria, that Europe has been experiencing since the beginning of the year.

A Greek police source on Saturday said Athens had forwarded to French authorities the fingerprints of the passport holder registered on Leros in October, to check whether he was actually involved in Friday’s attacks.

But Germany’s vice-chancellor has warned against a crackdown on migrants coming to Europe because of the deadly Paris terror attacks.

Sigmar Gabriel said those seeking refuge in Europe shouldn’t be made to suffer just because “they come from those regions where terror is being exported to us and to the world.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy’s told reporters in Berlin on Saturday that “we stand to protect them too, and to ensure that they don’t have to suffer because murderers in France are threatening people and Europe in the name of a religion.”

Greece’s junior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas had admitted in September that it would be “foolish” to completely discount the possibility of jihadists sneaking into Europe among the refugee wave.

Over 800,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with over 3,400 dying in the process.

But Mouzalas noted that the number of Europeans joining extremist groups in the Middle East was far higher.

“The opposite is happening. They leave from here and go over there,” he said.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday insisted that the refugees fleeing Syria “are hunted by the same terrorists” that struck in Paris on Friday.

“We must find solutions to the drama of the people who leave their homes, hunted by the same terrorists, and drown in the Mediterranean,” Tsipras said in a televised address.

Police also identified a Frenchman, previously known to police, as “very likely” being one of the assailants.

One or more of the attackers shouted out in French, which points to others also being French nationals.

French newspaper Liberation reported that an Egyptian passport was found on another attacker.

Witnesses said the attackers drove up in a Belgium-registered car, indicating some type of organization from outside France, but police said they are not ruling out local support.

Another pointer to foreign involvement was last week’s arrest of a man in Bavaria, Germany, who was carrying automatic weapons and explosives, who could have a link to the Paris attacks, according to a Bavarian minister.

Germany’s interior minister said Saturday that authorities have not yet established if the man arrested in Bavaria last week with a car-load of weapons was linked to the Paris killers. “There is a link to France, but it is unclear if there is a link to the attacks,” said Thomas de Maiziere. Police arrested the man on November 5 during a routine check on a motorway, saying “many machine guns, revolvers and explosives” were found in the suspect’s vehicle.

Authorities hope DNA tests and fingerprinting on the attackers’ corpses will yield further clues.

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