Saturday 3 December 2016

Bomb maker in Paris attacks the key suspect as police launch manhunt

Tom Whitehead, Henry Samuel and Tom Morgan

Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30

Najim Laachraoui: One of Europe’s most-wanted men. Getty
Najim Laachraoui: One of Europe’s most-wanted men. Getty

The bomb maker behind the Paris terror attacks is a key suspect in the Brussels atrocities.

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Belgian Najim Laachraoui (24) is a suspected Isil commander who made the suicide bombs used last November.

He is one of Europe's most wanted men who gave police the slip last year when he returned from Syria.

Last night, it was suggested he may be the mystery man at the centre of a dramatic manhunt for one of the suspected bombers who targeted Brussels Airport.

Of the three men caught on CCTV, two are believed to have blown themselves up but a third, who was wearing a white shirt and hat, remained at large and was the focus of a series of raids in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels.

Laachraoui grew up in Schaerbeek and had set up at least one bomb-making factory there in the weeks before Paris. It is thought he was the mastermind behind the latest outrage after suggestions the same kind of explosive - dubbed "Mother of Satan" - was used in the attack on the Belgian capital's transport hub.

An Iraqi intelligence source claimed the attack, which had been planned by Isil for three months, was shifted to Brussels and brought forward after the arrest of fellow Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam on Friday.

Police moved on the Schaerbeek district hours after the attacks and discovered a bomb containing nails, chemical products and an Islamic State flag at one address.

Factories

There was also reports that the local train station had been cordoned off but police activity focused on a block of flats on Rue Max Roos. A heavily armoured police truck has blocked off the residential street while a helicopter hovered over head.

Laachraoui figures on a list of Belgium's anti-terror service, Ocam, which contains around 100 names of residents of Schaerbeek, including several who have died in Syria and others who have returned. After returning from Syria, he is believed to have set up bomb- making factories in the district and another part of Belgium.

But he may be only one of several expert bombmakers who have been sent to Europe by Isil, investigators saying they have no idea how many are here.

A former Catholic schoolboy and electromechanics student, Laachraoui was stopped by police in September last year, weeks before the Paris attacks, as he made his way across Europe from Syria. He was in a car with Abdeslam on their way from Budapest to Brussels when they were stopped. But police waved them on after they convinced officers they were tourists on a trip to Vienna.

Because they were travelling on false identities, police were unaware that an international warrant had been issued for him in March 2014 under his real name.

Laachraoui was only publicly identified as a Paris suspect on Monday and Brussels was targeted less than 24 hours later. He had left Belgium for Syria in February 2013 where he received terror training before returning to Europe posing as a refugee.

He was picked up in Budapest in September last year by Abdeslam and taken to Brussels. He was also given the fake identity of Soutane Kayal which he then used to move across Europe.

Under his fake identity, Laachraoui rented a house in Auvelais, near the central Belgian city of Namur, used by some of the Paris killers, and at another suspected hideout in the rue Henri Berge in Schaerbeek.

Laachraoui's DNA was later found on two of the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks. It was also found in the addresses raided in Schaerbeek and Auvelais.

Laachraoui was already suspected of recruiting others to fight in Syria and was linked to Abdelhamid Abaaoud - the Belgian mastermind behind Paris.

He was recently tried in absentia for involvement in a network of Belgians who left for Syria, in which the prosecutor called for him to be handed a 15-year prison sentence for persuading several of his friends to join the ranks of Isil. The verdict will be pronounced in May. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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