A key bit of evidence that emerged in the investigation of the Paris terror attacks, which saw at least 129 people killed on Friday, is a supposed Syrian passport found near the body of one of the slain assailants. It bore the name of a Syrian national who apparently transited through Greece in early October. The document seemed to be an important clue in the untangling of the terror plot.
But more than that, it sparked a larger debate: Could one of the terrorists have been a Syrian refugee?
The prospect of Islamist infiltration through the current refugee influx in Europe has spooked politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, with a slate of Republican governors and presidential candidates in the United States pointing to the terror attacks as reason to bar entry to all Syrian refugees.
Here’s what we do and don’t know about the rumors of Syrian refugee involvement in the Paris terror attacks.
The Passport Is Fake
Authorities in multiple countries are pretty certain that the passport, found near the body of an unidentified attacker who died during his suicide assault of France’s national soccer stadium, is fake. It carried the name of “Ahmad Almohammad,” a 25-year-old Syrian. French officials have indicated that Almohammad was a loyalist soldier in the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and died a few months ago.
On Tuesday, Serbian police arrested another man at a refugee camp carrying a passport with the exact same details. It’s not clear at all if he has any connection to the case, other than having used the same shadowy process of obtaining a forged Syrian passport. There is a great deal of precedent for migrants pretending to be Syrians to gain safer passage and sanctuary in Europe.
The passport, or at least a copy of the passport, was shown to Greek officials by someone carrying it on the island of Leros, where thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants have made landfall this year. On Oct. 4, the Greek Ministry for Migration Policy issued a document to “Ahmad Almohammad” that would protect him from deportation for the next six months.
It’s not clear yet whether the fingerprints there have been matched to the unidentified assailant who was apparently carrying this fake Syrian passport. And if they do indeed match, it still won’t be immediately apparent if the man in question was a Syrian national.
On Tuesday, French authorities circulated a flier seeking help to identify the unknown attacker.
Identified Assailants Are European Nationals
Although the Paris terror attacks appear to have been partially planned or coordinated by Islamic State operatives in the Middle East, all the identified assailants so far are citizens of European Union countries. This suggests that their radicalization was likely homegrown on the continent and not imported via an exodus of beleaguered Syrian refugees.
Three out of the eight known assailants remain unidentified. Only one man is known to be alive. French officials confirmed on Tuesday that they were looking for a ninth suspect connected to the attacks.