Paris Attacks Mastermind Confirmed Dead


Colin Randall
November 20, 2015 Updated: November 20, 2015 01:53 AM

LONDON // Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ISIL commander suspected of masterminding the Paris attacks, was confirmed on Thursday to have been killed in the police raid on a terrorist hideout the day before.

Police sources later said Moroccan intelligence had helped put French investigators on the trail of the Belgian-Moroccan militant.

French officials said Abaaoud’s body was riddled with bullets and that it was not yet possible to say whether, like a woman killed in the operation, he had also blown himself with a suicide belt. He was formally identified from handprint analysis.

The 28-year-old was said by France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve to have been implicated in a series of other attacks, all thwarted by police, in recent months.

These are thought to include foiled massacres on board an express train from Amsterdam to Paris in August and at a church concert hall in the southern Paris suburb of Villejuif in April.

Belgian police have been hunting him since a deadly shoot-out in the city of Verviers in January, eight days after the French-Algerian Kouachi brothers carried out the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

He had later claimed in a video to have slipped back to Syria, where he has been based with ISIL, raising questions about the efficacy of efforts to track his movements in France and Belgium.

The French government admits it had no knowledge of his return.

He was an associate of the Abdeslam brothers, Salah and Brahim, who grew up in the same area of Brussels, Molenbeek. Brahim blew himself up during the Paris attacks and his brother is still on the run.

Confirmation of the alleged ringleader’s death – greeted with applause in the French parliament – came as France’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the president Francois Hollande’s request to extend the country’s state for emergency, announced immediately after last Friday’s attacks, for three months.

Amid fears that much of Europe is under a heightened threat of further attempts by ISIL terrorists, European Union interior ministers will meet in the Belgian capital of Brussels on Friday to coordinate a response.

The meeting comes after French prime minister Manuel Valls said on Thursday that some of the suspects in the attacks took advantage of Europe’s refugee crisis to “slip in” unnoticed, and warned that the European Union needs to “take responsibility” over border controls.

Analysis: Europe’s Schengen zone called into questions after Paris attacks

In the United States on Thursday, the house of representatives voted to ban Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the country until tougher screening measures are in place, a move some slammed as giving in to xenophobia after the Paris attacks.

The Republican legislation, the first congressional response to the attacks, passed overwhelmingly, 289 to 137, with nearly four dozen Democrats going against their president to support the measure.

The bill now heads to the senate, where its fate is uncertain, but it sets up a clash with president Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto the bill and has criticised Republicans for “hysteria” and falling short of their humanitarian duty to take in the oppressed.

Meanwhile, France asked the UN security council on Thursday to authorise countries to “take all necessary measures” to fight ISIL.

A draft resolution presented to the 15-member council called on UN member states to “redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts” committed by ISIL and other extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda.

The French draft resolution does not provide any legal basis for military action and does not invoke chapter seven of the UN charter that authorises the use of force.

French diplomats maintain, however, that the legislation will provide important international political support to the anti-ISIL campaign that has been ramped up since last Friday.

French security chiefs believe the terrorists targeted in Wednesday’s spectacular police assault in the northern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis were ready to launch new attacks. Sources close to the investigation have mentioned the Parisian commercial centre of La Defence, and Charles de Gaulle airport, as possible targets.

Mr Valls said on Thursday that ISIL could arm itself with biological and chemical weapons for use in future atrocities. Britain warned earlier that the terror group was attempting to mount cyberattacks on essential public services, also putting lives at risk.

“We must not rule anything out,” Mr Valls said. “I say it with all the precautions needed. But we know and bear in mind that there is also a risk of chemical or bacteriological weapons … Terrorism hit France, not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria … but for what it is.”

Investigators have not yet identified all of the eight people arrested during Wednesday’s raid, either at the flat where Abaaoud’s new terrorist cell was hiding or elsewhere. The people arrested elsewhere are believed to have provided assistance to Abaaoud.

But the woman who detonated a suicide belt, killing her instantly, has been named by French media as Abaaoud’s cousin, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, 26, born in the Paris region to Moroccan immigrants.

Reports said she was heard to scream “help me, help me” before the explosion as armed officers advanced on the flat.

Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the commander of the elite French unit RAID, who led the operation in which police fired 5,000 rounds, said the woman’s body had been severely mutilated in the blast she detonated.

“After a long firefight, we heard a loud explosion,” he told Le Parisiennewspaper. “That’s when we saw a human body, a woman’s head, fly through the window and land on the pavement, on the other side of the street. A suicide bomber had just exploded. The blast was so devastating that a supporting wall moved.”

The commander said a police sniper shot a male terrorist who was firing at officers but without stopping the suspect’s gunfire.

London’s Daily Mail newspaper has quoted acquaintances as describing Ait Boulahcen as someone who drank alcohol, was nicknamed the “cowgirl” because of her taste for large cowboy hats and habitually wore jeans and trainers until starting to appear in a niqab several months ago.

On Thursday, police activity was reported at the apartment block in the northeastern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois where Ait Boulahcen’s mother lives. Earlier, police in Belgium made at least one arrest in raids linked to last Friday’s attacks.

Ait Boulahcen is the first female suicide bomber known to have blown herself up in France.

In 2005, a Belgian woman, who converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim, acted as a suicide bomber in Iraq and was killed while attacking a United States military convoy.

The use of women in such roles has been more common elsewhere in the world, including Lebanon, Sri Lanka and India, where a Tamil female suicide bomber assassinated the prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991. In recent years, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which has declared allegiance to ISIL, is accused of having resorting to the tactic on a regular basis.

* With agencies



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