Mastermind of Paris attacks died in police raid: prosecutor

November 19, 2015 1:06 pm
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian suspected of orchestrating the Paris attacks, pictured in a February 2015 issue of the Islamic State group's online English-language magazine Dabiq © Dabiq/AFP
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian suspected of orchestrating the Paris attacks, pictured in a February 2015 issue of the Islamic State group’s online English-language magazine Dabiq
© Dabiq/AFP

, PARIS, Nov 19 – The Islamic State jihadist suspected of orchestrating the Paris attacks was killed in a major police raid, prosecutors confirmed Thursday, as French lawmakers extended emergency powers imposed after the carnage.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin linked to a series of extremist plots in Europe over the past two years, died in Wednesday’s assault by elite police units on an apartment in northern Paris. A second person also died in the raid, but their identity remains unclear.

The 28-year-old Abaaoud was thought to have been in Syria — where he had boasted of planning attacks on the West — and his presence in France raises troubling questions about a breakdown in intelligence and border security.

Confirmation that such a high-profile figure from the Islamic State group had managed to slip undetected into France prompted a sharp response from Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who demanded Europe step up its response to the terror threat.

Abaaoud was involved in four out of six attack plots foiled in France this year, he said, but Paris had received “no information” from other European countries about his arrival on the continent.

“It is urgent that Europe wakes up, organises itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat,” he told reporters.

The Islamist was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Belgium — where a court had in July sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison for recruiting jihadists for Syria.

It was only on November 16, three days after the Paris bloodbath, that “intelligence services of a country outside Europe indicated they had knowledge of his presence in Greece,” the minister said, without specifying which country.

Abaaoud was linked to a foiled April plot to attack a church near Paris, Cazeneuve said, and police were also probing possible links to a thwarted assault on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in August.

As the Paris probe widened to countries across Europe, Belgian police arrested nine people in Brussels, seven of them in raids linked to a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the French national stadium last Friday, prosecutors said.

Italy was also hunting five suspects after an FBI tip-off about possible jihadist attacks on landmark sites including St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, the foreign minister said.

– A miraculous escape –

Prosecutor Francois Molins said handprint analysis was used to confirm the identity of Abaaoud’s body, which was found riddled with bullets in the rubble of the shattered building in Saint-Denis following a seven-hour police siege.

Molins said it was not yet clear whether Abaaoud blew himself up. Another body found after the ferocious shootout is thought to be that of a woman who detonated an explosives vest.

Eight suspects were arrested in the massive Saint-Denis raid, which took place after authorities received a tip-off about Abaaoud on Monday, but another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, remains unaccounted for.

Abdeslam is thought to be one of the only surviving members of the group of assailants behind the Paris massacre. His suicide-bomber brother Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up at a café without killing anyone.

Chilling CCTV footage has emerged in which a gunman can be seen pointing his weapon at a woman lying on the floor of a cafe — but it jams, allowing her to flee.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls hailed Abaaoud’s death but warned that France still faced threats as lawmakers voted to extend an extraordinary package of security measures for three months.

“We must not rule anything out. There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons,” Valls said.

The measures include allowing police to carry weapons when they are off duty and use them in the event of an attack — providing they wear a police armband to avoid “any confusion”, according to a directive seen by AFP.

French MPs also voted to give the government the power to block websites and social media accounts promoting or inciting terrorist acts.

– Warning in May? –

At least 129 people were killed in the shootings and suicide bombings that targeted a concert hall, bars and restaurants and the Stade de France national stadium.

French President Francois Hollande spoke to his US counterpart Barack Obama by phone to brief him on the attacks probe.

US intelligence meanwhile published a report showing it warned in May that IS could carry out the kind of large-scale coordinated attacks seen in Paris, specifically referring to Abaaoud as a ringleader of Belgian plotters.

IS released a new video threatening New York, and specifically Times Square, although police said there was no “current and specific” threat.

France is coming to terms with being attacked for a second time in less than year. In January, jihadist gunmen killed 17 people at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, on the streets and in a Jewish supermarket.

Hours after Hollande urged the nation not to resort to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic reprisals in the wake of the attacks, a Jewish teacher was stabbed and wounded in Marseille by three people shouting anti-Semitic obscenities and expressing support for IS.



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