Friday 23 March 2018

Gunman killed in Brussels 'joined Islamic State in 2014'

Mohamed Belkaid was shot to death in Belgium on Tuesday
Mohamed Belkaid was shot to death in Belgium on Tuesday

The Algerian gunman newly-linked to the November 13 attacks in Paris after being killed by police joined the Islamic State group in 2014 and told the extremists he wanted to die as a suicide bomber, bypassing the choice to be a fighter.

Previously unknown to authorities, Mohamed Belkaid was shot to death in Belgium on Tuesday in a raid that led to the arrest of fugitive Salah Abdeslam, who is thought to have escaped the apartment while Belkaid fired the Kalashnikov assault rifle later found near his body.

According to exclusive documents given to the Associated Press by the Syrian opposition news site Zaman al-Wasl, Belkaid told the extremists he had travelled throughout Europe - including to Spain, Germany and France - and listed his residence as Sweden.

He provided a passport to the group and a phone number for a close relative, which on Friday rang as a non-functioning line.

In the document, he said he had no experience as a jihadi and no-one to vouch for him as he crossed the border on April 19, 2014.

Islamic State prizes the growth of its networks abroad and having a sponsor is seen as both a sign of credibility and a way to measure the extent of its reach.

Belkaid listed his occupation as a sweetmaker.

German intelligence authorities say they also have a copy of some of the same documents as the Syrian opposition site and they are believed to be authentic.

Belkaid's "application" to the Islamic State group and his subsequent ties to the November 13 attackers, many of whom met and trained together in Syria, highlights the difficulty in uncovering the extent of the plot that led to 130 deaths in Paris.

On Friday, Belgian prosecutors said Belkaid was "most probably" an accomplice of Abdeslam and had been using a fake Belgian ID card in the name of Samid Bouzid.

A man using that ID was one of two men seen with Abdeslam in a rental car on the Hungarian-Austrian border in September.

The same fake ID was used on November 17 to transfer 750 euro (£584) to the cousin of Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the suspected ringleader of the attack.

Both Hasna Ait Boulahcen and Abbaoud died in a police siege of the apartment paid for by that transfer, which was destroyed by a suicide attacker holed up with the two.

Belkaid was killed on Tuesday by a police sniper in Brussels. A Kalashnikov assault rifle was found by his body, as well as a book on Salafism, an ultraconservative strain of Islam.

Elsewhere in the apartment, police found an Islamic State banner as well as 11 Kalashnikov loaders and a large quantity of ammunition, the prosecutor said.

Press Association

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