Key suspect in Paris attacks has been featured in Islamic State propaganda

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Abdelhamid Abaaoud, from Dabiq 7.

European officials have identified Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian man whose parents are from Morocco, as a key suspect in last week’s coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Abaaoud has been featured by the Islamic State in its propaganda for plotting terrorist attacks in Europe in the past.

French authorities say Abaaoud is “the presumed mastermind” of the coordinated assault, according to the Associated Press. And he is also thought to have been involved in earlier plots targeting France, the AP reports, including an attack on a Paris-bound train in August and another on a church in the suburbs of Paris.

Abaaoud has not kept a low profile despite his suspected involvement in plots against the West. The Islamic State interviewed Abaaoud in Dabiq 7, the seventh issue of its English-language magazine, which was released in February 2015. The cover of Dabiq 7 mocked Muslims who stood in unity with France over al Qaeda’s attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Dabiq described Abaaoud as “a mujahid being pursued by Western Intelligence agencies for his jihad in Belgium.” Two members of Abaaoud’s cell were killed in a shootout with Belgian police during a raid on their safe house in Verviers on Jan. 15, just one week after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.

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In the Dabiq 7 interview, Abaaoud admitted that he and two accomplices, “Abuz-Zubayr al-Baljīkī (Khālid), and Abū Khālid al-Baljīkī (Sufyān),” (pictured, right) traveled to Europe “in order to terrorize the crusaders waging war against the Muslims.” He said Belgium was a target as the country “is a member of the crusader coalition attacking the Muslims of Iraq and Shām [Syria].”

After some difficulties in traveling to Belgium, the three jihadists “were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders,” he claimed.

Abaaoud mocked Western intelligence services for failing to prevent him from entering Belgium and establish a cell, and then later failing to capture him after the Verviers raid.

“Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave and come to Shām despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies,” he stated. “All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”

Abaaoud said he was stopped by security officials after the Verviers raid and police failed to match him with a photograph of him that was obtained while he was in Syria.

“I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance,” he said.

Islamic State has plotted attacks in Europe prior to Paris suicide assault

Abaaoud’s involvement with the Verviers cell and an attack by an Islamic State fighter at a Jewish museum in Belgium in May 2014 belie the common narrative that the Islamic State’s deadly suicide assault in Paris, which left more than 120 people dead, was a radical departure in strategy. Some analysts have claimed that up until last weekend’s attack in Paris, the Islamic State was only focused on taking control of territory in Muslim countries.

After the raid on Abaaoud’s cell in Verviers, Belgian federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt said the group was “on the verge of committing important terror attacks,” the AP reported. “It shows we have to be extremely careful.”

Over the past year, European intelligence officials have explained that several Islamic State plots were thwarted. In September 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron said that Reyaad Khan and Junaid Hussain, two British nationals who were killed in airstrikes in Syria in August, were plotting attacks against the West.

According to Cameron, Khan and Hussain “were British nationals based in Syria who were involved in actively recruiting [Islamic State] sympathizers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.”

“We should be under no illusion,” Cameron continued. “Their intention was the murder of British citizens.”

An Islamic State fighter succeeded in executing an attack in Belgium in May 2014. Mehdi Nemmouche, a fighter who worked in the Islamic State’s jails in Syria, opened fire at a Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium and killed four people.

The top leaders of the Islamic State have issued direct threats against the West, including the US. In his very first recorded speech, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, threatened America.

“As for your security, your citizens cannot travel to any country without being afraid. The mujahideen have launched after your armies, and have swore to make you taste something harder than what Osama [bin Laden] had made you taste. You will see them in your home, Allah permitting. Our war with you has only begun, so wait,” he said.

Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the spokesman for the Islamic State, threatened to strike the US and the “allies of America” in September 2014, after the US launched its air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

“[T]his campaign will be your final campaign,” Adnani said. “It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated, except that this time we will raid you thereafter, and you will never raid us. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted.”

Abaaoud, holding a koran and the Islamic State’s Flag while standing in front of a US-made Humvee, from Dabiq 7:

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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  • Arjuna says:

    Poster boy. Supposedly he was tasked by Salim Benghalem. Two juicy targets. I wish they’d level the whole town as a deterrent. The best anti-recruiting efforts are kinetic. They want to draw us in for a long stay, let’s give them Blitzkrieg instead.

    • James says:

      I say carpet bomb them with napalm or some other suitable incendiary weapon. What better way is there to eliminate both them and their IED’s?

      As far as all those ‘refugees’ are concerned, they need to just send them back. Why don’t they fight for their country? Why do they ‘cut and run’ like chicken dung?

      Why don’t we here of Kurds or Yazidis ending up on Europe’s shores? They’ve got the courage to stand and fight.

      It appears obvious to me that Europe has a problem. Namely, a migrant problem. My advice to Europe is to just send them back to wherever they came from. Sure, provide them with the most basic necessities; preferably in a refugee camp within the country of their original origin.

      For example, they could just set up ‘safety zones’ along the Mediterranean coastal areas in Libya.

  • Roy says:

    It is not enough to pursue the individuals who committed these massacre.
    The prime reason behind this attack and many other attacks is the mind set of “islamic totalitarianism”.
    It is agreed that only the fringe elements within the wider Muslim community involve themselves in terrorism. But the concept of Islamic totalitarianism is silently endorsed within the wider muslim community.
    Unless this issues is confronted, by both the muslim community and the western world, the massacres will continue.
    Post Script
    The credit for inventing mass casualty terrorism must be given to ISI of pakistan, which organized the 2011 Mumbai attacks.
    Will anyone bother to examine the links between Lashkar-e-taiba and ISIS, the Paris and Mumbai attacks are eerily similar.
    Yes, I am pointing fingers.

    • Arjuna says:

      Eerily similar to Mumbai 2008, less so to 2011, yes, but the sad truth is that the CIA is closer to ISIS than the ISI by virtue of our anti-Assad shenanigans in Syria and our long experience with AQI in Iraq. At least we should have good targeting packages.

    • Patrick Reilly says:

      What ISIS has shown is that they have the ability to “cut and paste” the tactics of other organizations – the chechens, Jemmah Islamiyah and LeT in the case of the Paris attacks – and carry the out on a western stage. I think what is missing with the coverage of this event is the excellent job that was done by security staff at the stadium, and the rapid response by French first responders and citizens, and the coordinated counter strike by counterterrorism forces. This could have been infinitely worse. However, the terrorists didn’t get into the stadium, citizens of Paris flooded the police with intell and took measures to get people off the streets and assisted first responders. The concert hall was retaken in a couple of hours (instead of a protracted hostage drama such as in Russia). Plus the civil planning of Paris is designed to thwart any kind of uprising, with broad avenues and roundabouts that favor the military or police shutting the city down in short order. Isis picked one of the worst cities on earth to try to conduct a Mumbai style attack, and they did a half-assed job of it.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    The Mumbai terrorist attacks took place in 2008, not 2011. But I do agree some Muslim countries like Pakistan support islamic terrorists for their use against neighbouring countries, who they don’t get along with. Extremists have fanatic ideologies, but without the guns and weapons, they are nothing. Unfortunately there are plenty of guns and weapons in the Muslim world, where it is easy to buy and train, especially in places where the state actively supports them. That’s the problem. We don’t have neo-nazi or communist terrorists doing the same as islamic terrorists in Europe, because there are no facilities for them in the continent where they can use weapons and training, unlike in the muslim world, where there are plenty. And with the spread of the internet, it’s not necessary for Muslims to go to muslim states to train, when terrorists that operate freely in muslim states can simply guide or give inspiration to those who want to attack under the religion of islam.

  • Nolan says:

    This guy has established his personnel in Europe dating back quite a while. The two individuals he’s pictured with in the magazine are Sufyan Amghar and Khalifa Bin Larbi. They were both killed in the January 2015 raid by Belgian forces on their Molenbeek hideout.

  • J House says:

    Committing the use of our full military might to vanquish these killers takes a combination of leadership and national will. We have neither, and until we do, expect another 9/11 on American soil in the near future.

  • Khaled Ahmed says:

    In a photograph on TV he is wearing a Pakistani tribal cap.

  • Dennis says:

    John Kerry. .are you an idiot? ..or just devoid of what it really means to be an American? Dispute your inept service record.,now you say that Isis (isil in your administrations view) had a legitimate reason for the Charlie hebdo attacks? ?? Are you really this far from decency? You are truly a disgrace to this country, let alone to its military. Get a job your good at, co use this ain’t it!

  • lgude says:

    @Roy I really like the term “Islamic totalitarianism” because it puts the emphasis on the religious, rather than political, nature of the totalitarianism. I grew up in the Roman Catholic church of the 1950s when us little ones were all carefully taught that our Protestant friends were all going to burn. That was a mild form of religious totalitarianism. Only Catholics could be saved – the rest were headed down below. That period was hilariously satirized in the movie The Blues Brothers where the “Bros” took the instructions of their old nun as the word of God and went on a rampage they declared a mission from God. Islam has held a similar position since its inception and that is the background against which the jihadis and their Imam enablers operate. Except of course they are deadly serious.


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