A man linked to the August train attack that was thwarted by American heroes is the “best bet” to be the mastermind of the November 13 Paris terror attacks.
Five days after the massacre, Abedlhamid Abaaoud was killed during a French security forces raid on a home in the French suburb of Saint Denis, reports the Washington Post, citing intelligence sources. He was officially identified through his fingerprints.
The AFP’s Danny Kemp reports that the group that Abaaoud was holed up with were “ready to strike.” He was killed by a sniper during the raid.
French media first named the mastermind as Belgian national Abaaoud, 27. He grew up in the same Brussels suburb as several other members of the sleeper cell that’s thought to have been behind the attacks on the Stade de France, the Bataclan concert hall and several bars and restaurants in the French capital.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A French Terrorist Told Cops that Abaaoud Told Him to Attack the Concert Hall
A French jihadi, who was arrested returning home from Syria during the summer of 2015, told police that Abaaoud told him to attack the Bataclan concert hall, reports the Guardian. French radio station RTL, which first named Abaaoud, reports that he’s a native of the notorious Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. That area is thought to be a hotbed of radical Islamist activity.
The Associated Press reports that Abaaoud grew up there and attended “one of Brussels’ most prestigious high schools, Saint-Pierre d’Uccle.” He told the Islamic State’s English language magazine, Dabiq, in February 2015, “Belgium is a member of the crusader coalition attacking the Muslims of Iraq and Shām (Syria).” He’s the son of Moroccan immigrant parents who now live in Belgium, reported The New York Times.
USA Today, quoting French sources, referred to Abaaoud’s role in the November 13 attacks as “unconfirmed rumors.” Meanwhile, a different source told Reuters, “He appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France 24 that raids had been ongoing in France and Belgium in the wake of the November 13 attacks. He said that 23 people had been arrested, and weapons, including a rocket launcher, had been seized.
2. He Appeared in a Video Towing a Trailer Full of Bloody Corpses & Recruited His 13-Year-Old Brother to Fight in Syria
A video that emerged last year showed Abaaoud and other jihadists in a pickup truck towing a trailer piled high with bloody corpses. In it, he said, “Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God’s path, we’re towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us.”
He’s highly suspected of orchestrating the Thalys high-speed Amsterdam-Brussels train attack in August, reports the Associated Press. The agency quoted independent journalist Etienne Huver — who obtained the aforementioned video and has met Abaaoud — commenting on Abaaoud’s rise in Syria: “On the one hand I’m surprised. On the other hand, I saw that there were beginnings of something. You can see that he’s giving orders. You can feel a charismatic guy who’s going up in the world … You can see a combatant who’s ready to climb the ranks.”
The Associated Press reports that Abaaoud recruited his 13-year-old brother into the jihadist movement in Syria. Their sister, Yasmina, told the New York Times, “Naturally, this was a big shock.” She added that her brothers “did not even go to the mosque” in their youths. The family lived on a nice street, close to one of Brussels more trendy neighborhoods. There are six children in the family.
In one video interview, Abaaoud says, “All my life, I have seen the blood of Muslims flow. I pray that Allah will break the backs of those who oppose him, his soldiers and his admirers, and that he will exterminate them.” He adds “While living in Europe, I never ate food like I have eaten here. I have entered into villas and palaces that, praise be to God, have, through the will of God, been provided for us here. … Are you satisfied with the life you lead, a humiliating life, whether you are in Europe, in Africa, in Arab countries or in America? Are you satisfied with this life, with this life of humiliation? You will find this only in your religion, only in jihad,” he said. “Is there anything better than jihad or a martyr?” In Syria, he went by the name Abou Omar el-Belgiki, “The Belgian.”
3. His Family Members Were Told that Abaaoud Was Killed in the Fall of 2014
Abaaoud’s sister told the New York Times that in the fall of 2014 her family received word that he had been killed in Syria. The Times adds that authorities believe this was a ruse to throw intelligence services off about his whereabouts.
The Guardian reports that Abaaoud carried out “several armed robberies” with one of the other suspects in the Paris terror attacks. RTL reports he served as “financier” for a terrorist cell in his homeland. One of his main targets had been the police station in Molenbeek.
If you prefer to read your news in Spanish, get the full story on Abaaoud here:
4. His Last Known Whereabouts Were in Syria
In January 2015, Belgian special forces raided Abaaoud’s neighborhood on the fringes of Brussels as well as the south eastern city of Verviers but failed to arrest him, reported France 24. After those raids, Abaaoud’s cell phone was found in Greece with authorities believing that he had fled back to Syria.
He later told ISIS official magazine Dabiq that he was back in Syria having escaped Belgium just prior to the raids. He bragged at the ease to which he escaped Europe, saying, “I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!” Abaaoud added “All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”
At that point, he had been linked to a series of foiled attacks in Belgium. France 24 reported at the time that an arrest warrant had been issued for Abaaoud in Greece.
5. This Was Europe’s Deadliest Attack Since the 2004 Madrid Train Bombings
French citizens returned to their lives on the morning of November 16, three days after the worst terror attack in Europe since the March 2004 Madrid train bombings. French President Francois Hollande called the November 13 attacks “an act of war” and said that those responsible must be countered “mercilessly.” Meanwhile France 24 reports that French Prime mInister Manuel Valls said that the Islamic State would never win in their war on the west.