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Sunday 18 February 2018

France 'suspected Paris attacks ringleader was plotting to target concert'

Most of the 130 killed in the attack were hostages in the Bataclan concert hall
Most of the 130 killed in the attack were hostages in the Bataclan concert hall

France started air strikes in Syria last year because of concerns months before the Paris attacks that the ringleader was plotting to target a concert and take hostages, a French newspaper has reported.

Citing French and Belgian intelligence material and police recordings, Le Parisien lists repeated occasions when authorities allegedly failed to catch Abdelhamid Abaaoud, even though he had been considered a major threat by several European intelligence services before the attacks on November 13.

Abaaoud was killed in a police raid five days after the attack by Islamic State (IS) suicide bombers. Most of the 130 killed in the attack were hostages in the Bataclan concert hall.

The French president's office and the Interior Ministry, which oversees intelligence services, did not respond to requests for comment.

Survivors and families of victims are marking six months since the attacks on Friday, which shook the nation and prompted a state of emergency that is still in place.

French authorities came under fire immediately after the attacks for intelligence missteps or gaps that failed to prevent the bloodshed.

France had been under high alert since deadly shootings at newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market in January last year.

By September 2015, Le Parisien reported, authorities had identified links between Abaaoud and thwarted attacks on a high-speed train and a church, and suspected he was plotting a big attack.

The report quotes a witness as saying Abaaoud asked him to find a concert or other easy target with a lot of people, with the goal of seizing hostages and dying while fighting police.

France joined the US-led coalition against IS in Iraq in 2014 but stayed out of Syria.

President Francois Hollande changed tack in September 2015, launching air strikes on Syria to prevent what the government said were attack threats.

Le Parisien said the decision was prompted by intelligence about Abaaoud, and that a French air strike on Deir ez-Zor in Syria on September 27 was aimed at Abaaoud's training camp.

Press Association

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