Belgian man named as mastermind behind Paris attacks

Belgian man named as mastermind behind Paris attacks
A French official has identified the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, that left over 100 dead, as Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, while police raid more than 150 locations overnight.
4 min read
16 November, 2015
The suspect has been identified as 27-year-old, Abdelhamid Abaaoud

The suspected mastermind of last Friday's Paris attacks was also linked to thwarted train and church attacks, a French official has said.

The suspect, identified as 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had fought with the so-called Islamic State [IS] group in Syria.

Friday's attacks, claimed by IS, took place on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes, leaving 129 people dead and over 350 wounded, 99 of them seriously.

Abaaoud had fought with IS in Syria [AP]

Belgian police launched a major new operation on Monday in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived.

The police wrapped up a major raid aimed at catching a key suspect in the Paris attacks without making any arrests, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said.

A local official added that no one was injured.

Two small explosions were heard and dozens of masked and heavily armed security officials had sealed off the area and neighbours were told to stay out of harm's way.

Police arrested three suspects in the impoverished Brussels neighborhood on Saturday and continued house searches.

Germany arrests Algerian who 'spoke of Paris attacks' before carnage

German authorities said Monday they have arrested an Algerian asylum seeker who reportedly told other migrants early last week that Paris would be hit by bomb attacks.

"He is said to have told other refugees the previous Sunday or last Monday that a bomb or bombs would go off in Paris four days later," a senior prosecutor, Werner Wolff, told AFP.

Prosecutors are now examining if the 39-year-old Algerian arrested in an asylum seeker shelter Saturday in Arnsberg, western Germany is guilty of failing to report knowledge of a crime, and if he was indeed aware of that the attacks would take place.

French raids

Meanwhile, French police carried out nearly 170 searches and arrested 23 people in raids overnight Sunday in the wake of the attacks.

More than 100 people have been placed under house arrest, the interior minister said.

A total of 31 weapons were seized, Bernard Cazeneuve added, with sources telling AFP they included a rocket launcher and a Kalashnikov rifle found near the southeast city of Lyon.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Monday "we are at war" against terrorism.

The Paris prosecutor's office said one suicide bomber who blew himself up in the Bataclan music hall Friday night was Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old Frenchman charged in a terrorism investigation in 2012.

Amimour was placed under judicial supervision, but dropped off authorities' radar in 2013 and an international arrest warrant was issued.

An attacker who blew himself up outside the national soccer stadium was found with a Syrian passport with the name Ahmad Al Mohammad, a 25-year-old born in Idlib, the prosecutor's office said. It said fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Across France and throughout Europe, people were due to pause for a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the worst attack on French soil since World War II.

High tension

Tension was high in France and Belgium as police looked for a key suspect. The arrest warrant for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, calls him very dangerous and warns people not to intervene if they see him.

Yet French officials revealed to The Associated Press that police already had him in their grasp early Saturday, when they stopped a car carrying three men near the Belgian border.

By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Paris theatre where so many died.

Three French police officials and a top French security official confirmed that officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. They spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorisation to publicly disclose such details.

Iraqi warnings

Tantalising clues about the extent of the plot have emerged from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials told the AP that France and other countries had been warned on Thursday of an imminent attack.

An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting them in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi dispatch provided no details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings "all the time" and "every day."

However, Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they also warned France about specific details: Among them, that the attackers were trained for this operation and sent back to France from Raqqa, the Islamic State's de-facto capital.

The officials also said that a sleeper cell in France then met with the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan. There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said: 19 attackers and five others in charge of logistics and planning.