Monday 23 September 2019

Who were the terrorists? Everything we know about the Isil attackers so far

Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Salah Abdeslam, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud
Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Salah Abdeslam, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud. (Militant Photo via AP)
An undated picture from the February 2015 issue 7 of the Islamic State (IS) group online English-language magazine Dabiq, purportedly shows 27-year-old Belgian IS group leading militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
French Police handout of Salah Abdeslam, (26) who is wanted by police over the Paris terror attacks

Ben Farmer, Victoria Ward and Gordon Rayner

At least three of the attackers had been to fight with Islamic State in Syria it emerges as more links between the attackers are dislcosed.

Omar Ismail Mostefai - died at the Bataclan

Mostefai was the first to be identified of the dead gunmen and suicide bombers who carried out Friday night’s simultaneous attacks across Paris.

French police ignored two warnings about Mostefai, before he helped carry out the attack on the Bataclan concert hall which killed 89 young music fans.

Turkish authorities twice flagged up the 29-year-old as a possible terror suspect last year, but their alerts were unanswered until after Friday’s Paris attacks.

The Frenchman born to Algerian parents was a known radical and is believed to have trained with Isil inside Syria last year.

Mostefai made contact with the extremists in Syria after travelling through Turkey in late 2013, security officials said, staying until at least early 2014.

Old friends of the jihadist also described how they had once tried to alert the French police to his radical views, only to be told the authorities could do nothing.

He was identified by prints from his severed finger found in the Bataclan, after the deadliest of the Paris attacks.

After being born to Algerian parents and growing up in the poor south Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, he moved to the historic cathedral city of Chartres, west of the capital, where his brother ran a shisha bar.

After being arrested for a string of petty offences in his youth, but never being jailed, his religious views became increasingly extreme and in 2010 he was marked up by intelligence agencies as a potential radical.

He was tracked to Syria but Turkish authorities have no record of him leaving. A senior Turkish official said the country had also identified Omar Ismail Mostefai as a possible "terror suspect" in October 2014 and notified the French in December 2014 and then June 2015.

France did not respond until after the attacks, when it was too late.

Friends told Germany’s Bild newspaper they had informed French security services after becoming concerned at his radicalisation, only to be told they were powerless to do anything.

One friend said Mostefai’s father had been involved in the Algerian war and belonged to a military group involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mostefai was described as friendly, religious and a talented footballer, but his views became increasingly extreme in 2009. French papers reported he had fallen under the spell of a radical Belgian imam of Morrocan origin at his mosque in the Luce suburb of Chartres. Another French jihadist who was later killed in Syria lived only a few streets from Mostefai, who moved on from Chartres in 2012.

The Abdeslam brothers

Salah Abdeslam - on the run

A major manhunt remains under way for Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national who has been on the run since the attacks.

French police have issued an international arrest warrant and described the 26-year-old as highly dangerous, warning anyone who comes across him not to approach him.

Abdeslam rented the black VW in Belgium that was found abandoned near the Bataclan concert hall.

He was stopped near the Belgian border on Saturday morning in a grey VW golf, with two unknown accomplices, but was not arrested at the time.

French officials have admitted police had the fugitive in their grasp, but let him go after checking his ID.

As the manhunt continued on Monday, a number of links between Abdeslam and the suspected attack mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, began to emerge.

Both men are childhood friends and lived in the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels which has become notorious for radicalisation. The two were jailed for armed robbery in 2010.

Police targeting Abdeslam raided a property in Molenbeek, Belgium, on Monday lunchtime but no arrests were made.

Between 2009 and 2011 Abdeslam worked as a mechanic for STIB, the Belgian state railway, working in a district Brussels.

Abdeslam, his brother Ibrahim, and other family members ran a number of business ventures together. He was the manager of a café set up by his brother Ibrahim.

Ibrahim Abdeslam - suicide bomber

The older brother of Salah Abdeslam blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire café.

The 31-year-old and his brother ran a number of businesses together with other relatives, but appeared to resign their share in them just weeks before the attacks.

Ibrahim founded a café which was managed by his brother Salah and was temporarily shut down for drugs offences several years ago. Local newspaper reports said the brothers had transferred their shares in the café to an unknown party after a meeting in September. The café was called Beguine, in the Rue des Beguines, and accounts show it had £10,000 in the bank, L'Echo reported.

The pair also ran a grocers in Molenbeek.

A man who lived near the cafe, who did not wish to give his name, said: "Ibrahim was the proprietor, but the cafe is closed now. I used to go there every day after work, on my way home. We would go there to smoke hashish, drink alcohol, no problem.

"Ibrahim and I played cards together, we laughed and joked. He talked to everyone, he was very generous. I would have a drink and he would say don't worry about playing. I used to play cards with Salah too, he was often at the cafe.

"Ibrahim used to go to discos, he would drink alcohol, smoke. But he stopped drinking alcohol in the last year."

Another Abdeslam brother, Mohamed, was arrested after the attacks and then released without charge. He said he had no idea his brothers had been radicalised. He said: “My family and I had no idea that they were in Paris. My parents are truly shocked. It was terrible for them.

I have never had any problems with the justice system. I just want to be left in peace

He went on: “We don't know what has happened to Ibrahim and Salah. I found out about it on the TV like everyone else.

My parents are truly shocked. I am thinking of the victims. I did not know that they had been radicalised. "

The third brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, was arrested on Saturday in Brussels but was released on Monday without charge.

He has since released a statement saying he had no idea that his brothers had been radicalised.

He said: "My parents are truly shocked. I am thinking of the victims. I did not know that they had been radicalised."

Three brothers are thought to have been involved in the attacks and one may remain at large.

Bilal Hadfi - died in suicide bomb at Stade de France

Hadfi, known as the “baby-faced jihadi,” was one of two suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France.

The 20-year-old French national, who lived in Neder-over- Heembeek, Belgium, had recently called for attacks on the “infidel dogs” of the West.

He was raised in Belgium, briefly attending a secondary school in the region of Diest.

Until very recently, he was a typical teenager who was obsessed with football, regularly updating his Facebook profile with news and comments about his favourite teams.

After leaving school, he is believed to have trained as an electrician.

But at some point within the last two years, he was radicalised by a Belgian imam, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. He began associating with hardline extremists and quickly transformed into a young man intent on following jihad.

He fought with Islamic State in Syria as recently as this spring, using the names Abu Moudjahid Al-Belgiki and Bilal Al Mouhajir.

On his return to Belgium, Hadfi disappeared from the radar of Belgian security services.

In July, he issued a call on Facebook for attacks in the West.

"To the brothers who reside in the lands of the infidels,” he said in a now-deleted video post. “Those dogs are our citizens everywhere.

“Hit the pigs in their communities so they no longer feel safe even in their dreams.”

He was reportedly friends on Facebook with the Syrian Jihadi Abu Isleym, who posed with a decapitated body on the social networking site.

Hadfi and several other attackers, known as the “Belgium cell” are believed to have armed themselves in Brussels before travelling to Paris in rental vehicles.

He was the second man to detonate his suicide vest, near gate H of the stadium, killing no one else.

'Ahmad Al Mohammad' - died in suicide bomb at Stade de France

The real name of the suicide bomber apparently carrying a fake Syrian passport when he detonated at the Stade de France remains a mystery, but officials say he entered Europe as an asylum seeker less than two months earlier.

The counterfeit document bearing the name 'Ahmad al Mohammad' was found alongside the body, whose fingerprints match a man using the name to enter Greece in early October.

Federica Mogherini, the EU's chief diplomat, said all the attackers are believed to be EU citizens, however, raising the possibility the man was using the fake passport to re-enter Europe, possibly because his real identity was on a watch list.

The discovery has raised fears other militants may have used the migrant crisis to pose as refugees and enter Europe among crowds making their way from Greece through the Balkans to Western Europe.

Greek authorities say the passport was used by an asylum seeker who registered on the island of Leros on October 3 after his makeshift boat from Turkey carrying around 70 migrants foundered off the coast and he was picked up by Greek coastguards.

He then reportedly applied for asylum in Serbia before travelling on to Croatia, Hungary and eventually to France.

Samy Amimour - died in suicide bomb at Bataclan

Samy Amimour, one of the three gunmen who killed at least 89 in the Bataclan concert hall, was placed on a watch list of potential terrorists after attempting to travel to Yemen three years ago.

The 28-year-old former bus driver was placed under judicial supervision following an attempt to travel to the region in 2012.

But French police issued an international arrest warrant the following year, after he went missing and was suspected of having travelled to Syria to join Islamic State.

Amimour's father Mohamed travelled to Raqqa in Syria a few months later in an attempt to persuade his son to come back to France. Amimour had been wounded in battle but refused the money offered to get him home and insisted to his father he was going to remain with Islamic State, where he had married and adopted the name Abu Hajia – meaning war.

According to friends however Amimour reappeared in Paris in recent months and had undergone a radical transformation in appearance.

On Monday friends of Amimour living in the south western suburb of Drancy where he grew up, told The Telegraph that when they last saw him he appeared to have adopted a radical mindset.

Mouzamil Mohammed, 15, who used to pray with Amimour at a nearby mosque, said: "Samy changed the way he dressed. He used to dress very normally, but I don't know how long ago he changed because I haven't seen him for a while. I don't know if he went on long trips, but when I saw him again he had a big beard and dressed very traditionally in a long white robe, but he didn't wear a hat."

Mastermind of attack could be Abdel Hamid Abaaoud

Belgian media reported on Monday morning that Abdel Hamid Abaaoud is the suspected brains behind the attack, citing security sources.

Abaaoud was believed to be the leaders of the Vervier cell of returned Syrian jihadists that was broken up by police in January in a deadly shootout.

The name of Paris attacker Brahim Abdeslam appears in several police files alongside leading militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud relating to criminal cases in 2010 and 2011, Flemish-language newspaper De Standaard reported.

Aged 27 and from Molenbeek, he was sentenced to 20 years in abstentia along with 32 other jihadists.

His father Omar is a grocer in Molenbeek and he is reputed to have taken his brother Younes, 13, to Syria with him in January 2014.

His family apparently announced his death at some point, but this may have been a ruse.

He has claimed in the IS English-language magazine Dabiq to have rejoined the group in Syria, and has featured in Isil propaganda videos and their magazine, boasting of how he evaded police.

He is believed to have been in Raqqa in April/June 2014, then Tabka, Deir ez Zor and finally Kobani.

A reporter for French newspaper Liberation claims that he was also in contact with the attacker of the Thalys train in August 2015, Ayoub El-Khazzani.

Up to 20 involved in attack

With seven suicide bombers dead, seven others under arrest and one man on the run, 15 men have so far been linked to the Paris attacks.

But Belgian intelligence officials have suggested that up to 20 people may have been part of the terrorist cell that planned the attacks, meaning a total of six people could be on the run.

Attack could have been planned in Syria

Some evidence points to the attack having been planned in Syria, where the town of Raqqa has become the de-facto capital of the so-called “Caliphate” of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

An anti-Isil activist living in Deir Ezzor, a town partly held by Isil between Raqqa and the Iraqi border, told The Sunday Telegraph that earlier this year he overheard foreign fighters plotting a "huge" terror attack in Paris from an internet cafe.

Tim Ramadan, who works with the group “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, said a fighter using the nom-de-guerre Abu Ibrahim al-Belgi - “father of Ibrahim, from Belgium” - was speaking to a "commander" who gave the orders for an attack.

"He said two (fighters) were sent in March and two more would be sent in May,” Mr Ramadan, speaking under a pseudonym, said. "They were saying goodbye and were going on an operation to France."

Likewise, in August, a Frenchman arrested on his return from Syria after a short stay in Raqqa mentioned instructions from Isil to target a concert hall.

“Isil videos contained references to France within the past week and there is some suggestion that they were a signal to a possible cell already inside the country,” one source said.

Attackers may have graduated from Isil training camps

Police said the attackers were “seasoned fighters by the looks of it and perfectly trained, with witnesses describing them as quite young and cool-headed”.

That would indicate a strong chance that at least some were among the thousands of European “foreign fighters” who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight. If so, they will have graduated from Isil’s training camps, schooled by the group’s leaders, many of them veterans of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist army.

The suicide bomb belts are suggestive of a separate bomb-maker still on the loose. Bomb-makers rarely take part in attacks, their skills considered too vital to lose.

An estimated 520 French nationals are fighting in Syria and another 250 have returned to France, officials said.

The gunmen’s bodies have been taken to Paris’ institute of forensic medicine for DNA checks.

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