Leader of the attacks in Paris identified
Brussels – — Once a happy-go-lucky student at one of Brussels’ most prestigious high schools, Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, Abdelhamid Abaaoud morphed into Belgium’s most notorious jihadi, a zealot so devoted to the cause of holy war that he recruited his 13-year-old brother to join him in Syria.
The child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in the Belgian capital’s scruffy and multiethnic Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, the fugitive, 27, was identified by French authorities on Monday as the mastermind of the attacks last Friday in Paris.
A French security official cited chatter from Islamic State figures that Abaaoud had recommended a concert as an ideal target for inflicting maximum casualties, as well as electronic communications between Abaaoud and one of the Paris attackers who blew himself up.
What’s more, one French official with direct knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press that Abaaoud is believed to have links to earlier terror attacks that were thwarted: one against a Paris-bound high-speed train that was foiled by three young Americans in August, and the other against a church in the French capital’s suburbs.
The official wasn’t authorized to make public comments on the subject and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Belgian authorities suspect him of also helping organize and finance a terror cell in the eastern city of Verviers that was broken up in an armed police raid on Jan. 15, in which two of his presumed accomplices were killed.
There was no official comment from the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office about Abaaoud’s reported role in the Paris attacks. Belgian police over the weekend announced the arrest of three suspects in Molenbeek, his old neighborhood, and were carrying out numerous searches there Monday.