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Hungary: Ringleader in Paris Attacks Recruited Accomplices in Budapest

Hungarian officials claimed this week that one of the masterminds behind the terrorist attacks in Paris recruited migrants from Budapest.

A picture taken on December 3, 2015 at the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, outside Paris shows the wanted notice of terrorist Salah Abdeslam (L) and Mohamed Abrini.  / AFP / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD        (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on December 3, 2015 at the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, outside Paris shows the wanted notice of terrorist Salah Abdeslam (L) and Mohamed Abrini. / AFP / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

In September, thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers crammed into Budapest’s Keleti train station, desperately hoping to find their way to Austria and Germany. The chaotic scenes at the train station and the harsh response by the Hungarian government focused European public opinion on the migrant crisis. Now, Hungarian officials claim that one of the individuals responsible for the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris came to the train station to recruit accomplices.

“I can confirm that one of the main organizers of the Paris terror attacks was in Budapest,” Janos Lazar, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, told reporters in the Hungarian capital Thursday, adding that the unnamed suspect was specifically in the train station in September. It was there, Lazar said, that he rounded up “a team from immigrants who had refused to register with Hungarian authorities … [and then] left the country together with them.”

But Lazar did not name the suspect or say whether the individuals recruited in Keleti actually participated in the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. Although his exact role in the attack remains unclear, police have identified Salah Abdeslam as a suspect and have launched a manhunt to track him down. Agence France-Presse reported that a car he rented was in Hungary on Sept. 17.

Austrian officials have said that Abdeslam was in Austria on Sept. 9, when he was pulled over by police in a routine traffic stop and let go. Abdeslam was reportedly traveling south from Germany and may have been en route to Hungary, which lies to Austria’s east. On Friday, French and Belgian police said they are looking for two men thought to have helped Abdeslam make that trip.

Authorities believe Abdeslam fled to Belgium after helping launch the Paris attacks that killed 130, but his current whereabouts are unknown. On Thursday, a senior European official told CNN that they have no leads as to where he may be.

If hard evidence emerges that those behind the Paris attacks recruited accomplices at Keleti, it would represent a political windfall for the right-wing Orban government, which has repeatedly and aggressively demonized migrants seeking to gain entry to Europe. In a November interview with Politico Europe, Orban claimed that “all the terrorists are basically migrants.”

As crowds of migrants and refugees forced their way onto trains in Keleti in mid-September, Orban shut his country’s border with Serbia, setting off clashes between migrants and border guards. Orban’s hard-line reaction stoked tension between Budapest and Berlin, with Orban blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lax migration policy for the surge in asylum-seekers passing through Hungary en route to Germany.

Refusing to let anyone who was not already registered in Hungary board trains in the Keleti station, Orban defended his military’s harsh treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers — including the use of water cannons and tear gas on his border — by saying that some migrants may have ties to the Islamic State. Those moves were met with immediate backlash from other leaders in the EU, as well as the U.N.’s refugee agency, who criticized the harsh response toward individuals fleeing violence at home. 

But worries that Islamic State fighters really are infiltrating the flow of refugees were exacerbated by last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. French authorities discovered a fake Syrian passport near the body of a man who blew himself up at the Stade de France, the sports stadium. That man’s fingerprints matched those of an individual who came ashore in Greece in October, along with thousands of others seeking to gain entry to Europe and refuge from the Syrian civil war.

Photo credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

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