Source : The Telegraph

A key coordinator of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, arrived in Europe far earlier than previously thought and prepared the attacks from Belgium, not Syria or Greece, intelligence has reportedly learned.

With France preparing for the anniversary of the November 13 attacks in which three Isil commandos killed 130, intelligence agencies have also learned more about the pivotal role of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the commando groups, in ferrying a dozen members from eastern Europe to Belgium and France.

A report released by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and the French terrorism analysis centre, CAT, sheds new light on the « French-Belgian nexus » leading to the bloody Isil attacks of last November, as well as the bomb blasts in Belgium on March 22 that left 32 dead.

Key information provided by Hungarian anti-terror services reveals that the first member of the suicide commandos to reach Europe before the attacks was Abaaoud, who was killed in a police shootout outside Paris shortly afterwards.

Abaaoud had reached Hungary from Syria by August 1 last year in the company of Ayoub el-Khazzani, a Moroccan national who led a botched attempt to wreak carnage in an Amsterdam to Paris train later that month, stopped by off-duty US servicemen, the report confirms. The fact they travelled together suggests Abaaoud helped coordinate this attack too.

Abaaoud travelled by car to Austria on August 4, while el-Khazzani left for Vienna by train the following day.

Security agents believe that despite being a wanted Isil terrorist for his role in a thwarted plot to attack a police station in Verviers, Belgium, Abaaoud was able to oversee the arrival of the Paris attacks commandos from Belgium, probably in a Brussels suburb, not from Syria or Greece, as previously thought.

Newly obtained evidence suggests that he was helped by Abdeslam, his childhood friend, who played a « critical role in assembling the attack teams » by conducting four road trips from Belgium to Central Europe – three to Hungary, one to Germany – to bring a dozen or so terrorists to Brussels.

Salah Abdeslam in prison
Salah Abdeslam in prison CREDIT: HET NIEUWSBLAD 

These were able to to slip through the net by masquerading as migrants provided with travel papers by Macedonia in June 2015.

« It has been established that more than ten members of the terrorist network responsible for the attacks (in Paris and Brussels) stayed or passed through Hungary between July and November 2015 by profiting from the migrant flow, » concluded a Hungarian intelligence note seen by CAT.

Members of the Paris attacks commandos
Members of the Paris attacks commandos CREDIT: FEDERAL POLICE/AFP

All these are now either dead or captured bar one known as A. Ahmed, who Abdeslam was supposed to pick up in Ulm, Germany, on October 2. He was later arrested in Hungary before going to Austria and fleeing to Turkey on November 16 and is now believed to be in Syria.

Drawing on interviews with European and American counterterrorism officials as well and a database on French foreign fighters maintained by CAT, the report issued a stark warning about « the future threat » one year on.

It concludes: « The number of veterans from the Syrian battlefields being deployed to Europe and the apparent continued survival of senior francophone figures at the apex of the Islamic State’s external operations wing suggest that despite military efforts to deprive the Islamic State of territorial control in Iraq and Syria, the group will continue to be a threat to France, Belgium, and other European countries for some time to come. »

Henry Samuel, Paris, 12 November 2016

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