French Identify Mastermind Of Attacks As Belgian Extremist

Police are on the hunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, who also was connected to thwarted attacks on high-speed train and church

Nov 16, 2015 at 5:30 AM ET

The mastermind of the Paris terror attacks is a Belgian extremist who fought alongside ISIS in Syria, authorities said on Monday. The suspect, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is still eluding a multi-nation manhunt stretching across France, Belgium and beyond. Another alleged conspirator in the attacks that left 129 dead, Salah Abdeslam, also remains at large.

The 27-year-old Abaaaoud was first named by police as a wanted extremist following a shootout with authorities in Belgium in January during a raid on an ISIS cell, the Guardian reported. The so-called mastermind is said to be from Molenbeek, in Brussels, where multiple arrests and police raids have taken place. Abbaoud was also linked by police to thwarted attempts to bomb a high-speed train and blow up a church in Paris earlier this year. 

More What We Know About The Men Who Attacked Paris

Abaaoud is believed to be in Syria and became known by authorities when he was pictured at the wheel of a car moving bodies to a grave in an ISIS video, Belgian media reported, according to the AFP. During an extensive interview in ISIS’s English-language magazine, Dabiq, in February, bragged about escaping bloated “crusader intelligence” and mocked efforts to capture him.

“He’s exactly the kind of people you would expect to plan something like this,” Charlie Winter, a security analyst, told The Independent.

Abaaoud was identified after a string of police raids on homes of suspected militants across France overnight. “We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said.

More Paris Attacks Mastermind Brags About Escaping “Crusader Intelligence”

French interior minister told the AP that 168 locations were raided by police across France as authorities pieced the puzzles together about Friday’s attacks and aimed to thwart more violence. Raids reportedly took place from Toulouse to Grenoble and Bobigny.

Police arrested at least 23 people and recovered a Kalashnikov and other weapons during the overnight raids, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Authorities on Monday also identified two of the assailants involved in Friday’s attacks, while U.S. warplanes unleashed a series of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria. Here’s what else we know:

  • The Paris prosecutor’s office on Monday identified Samy Amimour as one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up in the Bataclan music hall Friday night. The 28-year-old Frenchman had been charged in a terrorism investigation in 2012 and later placed under judicial supervision, the Associated Press reported. He disappeared a year later, prompting an international warrant for his arrest.
  • French officials also confirmed that one of the attackers, 25-year-old Ahmad al-Mohammad, had posed as a Syrian refugee and passed through the Greek Island of Leros and Serbia en route to Paris. Mohammad blew himself up outside the national soccer stadium on Friday night. The Paris prosecutor’s office said fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.
  • U.S. warplanes on Monday destroyed at least 116 trucks used by ISIS to smuggle oil out of Syria, said U.S. officials. The bombing raid came hour after French fighter jets bombed Raqqa, the city in eastern Syria ISIS claims as the capital.
  • A Turkish official told the Guardian newspaper on Monday that Turkey had informed French authorities about the suicide bomber Omar Ismaïl Mostefai on two separate occasions. But, the official said, Turkey only received an information request about the suspected assailant after the Paris attacks.