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French Investigators Continue Search For Suspect After Finding Explosive Belt


We're joined now by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Hey, Eleanor.


SHAPIRO: Tell us why this diplomatic mission by Hollande is so important.

BEARDSLEY: Ari, it's so important because this is a city - Paris and, actually, the whole country is still in a state of shock after the attacks on the 13th of November that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. For Hollande and for France, really, there's been sort of a change of mindset. Whereas getting rid of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was a main goal before, there's one goal for France right now. It's fighting ISIS. It's the top priority. And political solution is secondary.

So Hollande met with President Obama today. He will go to Moscow on Thursday, and he will try to convince Russian president Vladimir Putin that there is one enemy for everyone and that it's ISIS and that that's the only group to fight. And today when he spoke, he evoked the Russian passenger airliner that was blown up allegedly by an ISIS-planted bomb at the end of October. France needs the U.S., and it needs Russia. And these two parties don't exactly see eye-to-eye, but he needs them both to fight ISIS with him.

SHAPIRO: And tell us more about the latest in the investigation. What has come out just in the last day or two?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Ari, the Paris prosecutor spoke. And yesterday, an explosive belt was found in a trashcan on the southern periphery of Paris. And tonight, the prosecutor told us that it's identical to the belts used by the suicide bombers that blew themselves up. Police believe that it was discarded by the one suspect that they believe got away, 26 year old Salah Abdeslam, because his cell phone was traced to exactly that area on the night of the attacks.

And the prosecutor also said this was very unnerving. He said that tracked cellphones showed that the manager of the three teams that came in and attacked Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had hung out in Paris for five or six days before and after the attacks and that on the night of the attacks, he returned to the 10th and 11th arrondissements to the crime scenes and even to the concert hall as it was being raided by the SWAT teams. He came back to sort of watch - we don't know, but we can presume - to watch what was going on. This was very unnerving.

And the last thing he said was that investigators, because of the intensity of the investigation that's been going on since the 13th, had foiled another plot for an attack on a business district - it's called La Defense at the northern edge of Paris - that was set for the 18th or the 19th of November.

SHAPIRO: So authority's saying that another attack was planned. How does that change the mindset in Paris?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Ari, that's exactly what people fear - these follow-on attacks, more attack. And that tells you a little bit about the psyche of the city. And that gives you the sense of urgency that President Hollande has as he takes his, you know, diplomatic offensive to world leaders. He wants them to join the fight against ISIS. You can feel it when you're out in the city.

I mean, people are out and about, but the whole city's in a heightened state of just sort of fear and jittery. A metro was evacuated again today - a metro stop. And this seems to happen every day for a suspect package. It blocks everything up, but people don't know if it's going to be real or not. Cafes that are usually full are empty. There's been tourist cancellations. So it's - these are very nervous times.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks, Eleanor.

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

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.