Iraqi intelligence warned of attacks before Paris assault
An Iraqi intelligence dispatch sent to coalition countries warned of imminent assaults by Islamic State the day before the deadly attacks in Paris killed 129 people, it has emerged.
Iraqi intelligence said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ordered an attack on coalition countries fighting against them in Iraq and Syria, as well as on Iran and Russia, "through bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days".
Six senior Iraqi intelligence officials corroborated the information in the intelligence dispatch, and four of them said they warned France specifically of a potential attack.
The dispatch said the Iraqis had no specific details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official said French intelligence gets this kind of communication "all the time" and "every day".
Two Iraqi officials said France was warned beforehand of details that French authorities have yet to make public.
Among them is that the Paris attacks appear to have been planned in Raqqa, Syria - Islamic State's de-facto capital - where the attackers were trained specifically for this operation with the intention of sending them to France.
The officials also said a sleeper cell in France met the attackers after their training and helped them execute the plan.
There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said - 19 attackers and five in charge of logistics and planning.
Iraq's foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told journalists in Vienna on Sunday that Iraqi intelligence agencies had obtained information that some countries would be targeted, including France, the US and Iran, and had shared the intelligence with those countries.
The Iraqi government has been sharing intelligence with various coalition nations since they launched their air strike campaign against IS last year. In September, the Iraqi government also announced that it was part of an intelligence-sharing quartet with Russia, Iran and Syria for the purposes of undermining the militant group's ability to make further battlefield gains.
Without commenting specifically on the Iraqi warning, a senior US intelligence official said he was not aware of any threat information sent to Western governments that was specific enough to have thwarted the Paris attacks.
Officials from the US, French and other Western governments have expressed worries for months about Islamic State-inspired attacks by militants who fought in Syria, the official noted. In recent weeks, the sense of danger had spiked.
Russia is also conducting air strikes in Syria and recently endured a tragedy of its own when a Russian plane was downed in a suspected bombing in Egypt last month, killing all 224 passengers onboard. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.
France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died, including the three attackers. The Charlie Hebdo attackers claimed links to extremists in Yemen, while the kosher market attacker claimed ties to IS.
At the time, France's prime minister acknowledged "failings" in intelligence that led to the three-day spree of horror, as criticism mounted that the attacks might have been avoided if officials had been more alert to the peril posed by suspects already on their radar.