Suspected Paris attacks leader boasted of crossing borders

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Paris Attacks: Profile of Key Suspect, Abdelhamid Abaaoud

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected planner of the Paris attacks, mocked European frontier controls and boasted of the ease with which he could move between Syria to his Belgian homeland and the rest of Europe.

As police piece together how militants mounted Friday's assaults, evidence that some involved had fought in Syria and were on wanted lists, yet slipped back to kill 129 people, will raise a host of questions on how Europe tracks local Islamists and controls the borders it has opened to half a million Syrian refugees.

SEE ALSO: 2 dead, 7 arrested in raid targeting Paris attack mastermind

Abaaoud, a 28-year-old of Moroccan origin, was the best known of more than 350 Belgians to fight in Syria -- proportionately the biggest contingent from Europe -- and in particular of dozens of young men from the poor Molenbeek district of Brussels to take up arms for Islamic State.

His notoriety was based on videos on social media and, for the past year, his boasts of mounting attacks in Europe.

See photos of Abaaoud and other suspects in the Paris attacks:

10 PHOTOS
Suspects in the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Salah Abdeslam, Ahmad Almohammad
See Gallery
Suspected Paris attacks leader boasted of crossing borders
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Abaaoud the Belgian jihadi suspected of masterminding deadly attacks in Paris was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the city prosecutor's office announced Thursday Nov. 1, 2015. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins' office said 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud was identified based on skin samples. His body was found in the apartment building targeted in the chaotic and bloody raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. (Militant photo via AP)
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Abaaoud, the child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in the Belgian capital’s Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, was identified by French authorities on Monday Nov. 16, 2015, as the presumed mastermind of the terror attacks last Friday in Paris that killed over a hundred people and injured hundreds more. (Militant Photo via AP)
This undated image taken from a Militant Website on Monday Nov. 16, 2015 showing Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud. A French official says Abdelhamid Abaaoud is the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks was also linked to thwarted train and church attacks. (Militant video via AP)
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the #ParisAttacks was "interviewed" in #ISIS's Dabiq magazine https://t.co/wSKmztFfn5
BREAKING: Third Bataclan attacker identified as Foued Mohamed-Aggad https://t.co/FYwEykV9Kp https://t.co/7g6vH7gvwH
This undated photo released late Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, by Greece's migration policy ministry shows a registration photo from a document issued to 25-year old Ahmad Almohammad, holder of a Syrian passport found near a dead assailant in the scene of a Paris attack Friday. The document was issued on Sunday, Oct. 4 by authorities on the Greek island of Leros, where the man arrived a day earlier on a frail boat carrying migrants over from Turkey. It protects him from deportation for six months, and is the same documentation routinely issued to thousands of newly-arrived migrants. (Greek Migration Ministry via AP)
This undated photo released late Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, by Greece's migration policy ministry shows a document issued to 25-year old Ahmad Almohammad, holder of a Syrian passport found near a dead assailant in the scene of a Paris attack Friday. The document was issued on Sunday, Oct. 4 by authorities on the Greek island of Leros, where the man arrived a day earlier on a frail boat carrying migrants over from Turkey. It protects him from deportation for six months, and is the same documentation routinely issued to thousands of newly-arrived migrants. On the right is a copy of his fingerprints, taken on Saturday, Oct. 3. (Greek Migration Policy Ministry via AP)

This undated file photo provided by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations continue Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. French police released the wanted notice and photo of the suspect on the run since the attacks in Paris on Friday. The notice, released on the France National Police Twitter account, says anyone seeing Salah Abdeslam, should consider him dangerous. (Police Nationale via AP)

This undated file photo released Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations continue. The notice, released on the national police Twitter account, says anyone seeing Salah Abdeslam, should consider him dangerous and call authorities immediately. The notice reads in French: "Call for witnesses - Police are hunting a suspect : Salah Abdeslam, born on Sept. 15, 1989 Brussels, Belgium. ...Dangerous individual don't intervene yourself". (Police Nationale via AP)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

In a slick online English-language magazine produced by Islamic State in February, Abaaoud, now known as Abu Omar al-Baljiki -- the Belgian -- said he had been in his homeland the previous month planning attacks with two others who had fought in Syria and who died in a Belgian police raid in January.

He had, he said, returned to Syria, despite his face having been well known to police thanks to a much-posted video of him driving a pick-up truck towing the bloodied bodies of prisoners.

"I suddenly saw my picture all over the media, but alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), the kuffar (infidels) were blinded by Allah," he said. "I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance.

"This was nothing but a gift from Allah."

Boasts like that from one of Europe's most wanted men are likely to fuel debate on stepping up measures like the use of biometric passports, including fingerprint or iris data, that could combat the use of fake documents and human recognition.

A PROMISING STUDENT

Once a student of some promise -- at 12 he won a scholarship to an elite Catholic school miles from his family clothes store in Molenbeek -- he later worked with his father, Omar, but in 2013 vanished suddenly before showing up in Syria.

Omar has since disowned him and accused him of kidnapping his younger brother who, at just 13, was vaunted on social media as becoming the youngest foreign fighter in Syria.

Security officials have said Abaaoud may have first returned briefly to Europe in late 2013 and then returned before the attacks on French magazine Charlie Hebdo this January.

A week later, two of his alleged accomplices were killed in a raid in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers that officials said foiled a plot to kidnap and kill a police officer.

In his online interview, supposedly back in Syria, Abaaoud said he was the only one who traveled with the two dead men, named in Belgium as Sofiane A and Khalid B, both in their 20s, although a third man was arrested in connection with the case.

Asked if the trio, who were pictured together in the online publication Dabiq against a background of blue sky and olive trees, had found it hard to return to Europe, he said:

"We faced a number of trials during the journey. We spent months trying to find a way into Europe, and by Allah's strength, we succeeded in finally making our way to Belgium."

Security officials believe they entered Europe via Greece.

"We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders.

"The kuffar raided the place with more than 150 soldiers from both French and Belgian special forces units. After a gun battle that lasted about 10 minutes, both brothers were blessed with shahadah (martyrdom), which is what they had desired."

Abaaoud noted that he had previously been in prison in Belgium -- local media have said he was jailed for robbery in 2010 and spent time alongside Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old Molenbeek man also sought over the Paris attacks and whose elder brother has been identified as one of seven suicide bombers.

The Abdeslam brothers ran a Molenbeek bar shut down for drug dealing this summer. Both were on the Belgian intelligence services radar as possibly having been radicalized, judicial officials told Le Soir newspaper.

The elder, Brahim, had traveled to Turkey hoping to reach Syria but was deported by the Turks and questioned on his return. So too was Salah, though it is unclear if he had ever tried or succeeded in traveling to Syria.

Photos of the anti-terrorism raids across Europe:

36 PHOTOS
Anti-terrorism raids and arrests across Europe after Paris attacks
See Gallery
Suspected Paris attacks leader boasted of crossing borders
An armed police man patrols at the Grand Place in Brussels on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. Two people have been arrested in Belgium on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels during the holidays, the federal prosecutor's office said Tuesday. A source close to the investigation said the Belgian capital's main square, thronged this time of year with holiday shoppers and strollers, was one of the suspected targets. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 29: Security forces of Belgium stand guard as two people arrested on suspicion of terrorism in Brussels, Belgium on December 29, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 29: Security forces of Belgium stand guard as two people arrested on suspicion of terrorism in Brussels, Belgium on December 29, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
French police officers monitor the border between France and Belgium in Neuville-en-Ferrain, northern France, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. Belgian police launched more raids in Brussels and beyond early Monday, detaining five more people as they continued their hunt for a fugitive suspect in the Paris attacks. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 20: On the street where the raid took place in the Saint Denis area of Paris, and where three people died, including the ringleader of the terrorist attack, police man the security barrier as the investigation at the apartment continues. A third body was found in the rubble today. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Masked police officers guard the 'Seituna' cultural center in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. Police raided the mosque after the arrest of two people suspected of belonging to an Islamist extremist group. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Police lead away a man during a raid in Brussels on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. Western leaders stepped up the rhetoric against the Islamic State group on Sunday as residents of the Belgian capital awoke to largely empty streets and the city entered its second day under the highest threat level. With a menace of Paris-style attacks against Brussels and a missing suspect in the deadly Nov. 13 attacks in France last spotted crossing into Belgium, the city kept subways and underground trams closed for a second day. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
ALSDORF, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 17: Heavily-armed members of the German SEK special forces police unit stand outside a house in Schaufenberger Strasse street where they possibly made two arrests on November 17, 2015 in Alsdorf, Germany. Police announced earlier today that a unit of the SEK special forces had in a separate incident arrested two men and one woman at 9:30 this morning in connection with the recent terror attacks in Paris in the parking lot of a Jobcenter employment office. So far it is unclear who the suspects are though initial reports indicate Salah Abdeslam, a brother of a man who took part in the attacks and whom police are searching for across Europe, is not among them. (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
ALSDORF, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 17: Heavily-armed members of the German SEK special forces police unit stand outside a house in Schaufenberger Strasse street where they possibly made two arrests on November 17, 2015 in Alsdorf, Germany. Police announced earlier today that a unit of the SEK special forces had in a separate incident arrested two men and one woman at 9:30 this morning in connection with the recent terror attacks in Paris in the parking lot of a Jobcenter employment office. So far it is unclear who the suspects are though initial reports indicate Salah Abdeslam, a brother of a man who took part in the attacks and whom police are searching for across Europe, is not among them. (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
Policemen check the identity of motorists as part of security measures set following terrorist attacks in Paris on November 17, 2015 at the French-Belgium border in Neuville-en-Ferrain. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
ALSDORF, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 17: Police officers arrive at Schaufenberger Strasse street where they possibly made two arrests on November 17, 2015 in Alsdorf, Germany. Police announced earlier today that a unit of the SEK special forces had in a separate incident arrested two men and one woman at 9:30 this morning in connection with the recent terror attacks in Paris in the parking lot of a Jobcenter employment office. So far it is unclear who the suspects are though initial reports indicate Salah Abdeslam, a brother of a man who took part in the attacks and whom police are searching for across Europe, is not among them. (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
Police officers patrol at the main railway station in Berlin, on November 17, 2015. Security has been tightned in Germany following the string of coordinated attacks in and around Paris late November 13, 2015 left at least 129 people dead, in the worst such violence in France's history. AFP PHOTO / DPA / KAY NIETFELD +++ GERMANY OUT +++ (Photo credit should read KAY NIETFELD/AFP/Getty Images)
ALSDORF, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 17: Police officers arrive at Schaufenberger Strasse street where they possibly made two arrests on November 17, 2015 in Alsdorf, Germany. Police announced earlier today that a unit of the SEK special forces had in a separate incident arrested two men and one woman at 9:30 this morning in connection with the recent terror attacks in Paris in the parking lot of a Jobcenter employment office. So far it is unclear who the suspects are though initial reports indicate Salah Abdeslam, a brother of a man who took part in the attacks and whom police are searching for across Europe, is not among them. (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
Policemen check the identity of motorists as part of security measures set following terrorist attacks in Paris on November 17, 2015 at the French-Belgium border in Neuville-en-Ferrain. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Belgium special force officers us a camera as they prepare to enter a house in the Rue Delaunoy in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean of Brussels, on November 16, 2015, several days after a series of deadly attacks on the French capital Paris. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to the November 13 attacks in Paris which left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/DIRK WAEM =BELGIUM OUT= (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Belgium special force officers prepare to enter a house in the Rue Delaunoy in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean of Brussels, on November 16, 2015, several days after a series of deadly attacks on the French capital Paris. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to the November 13 attacks in Paris which left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/DIRK WAEM =BELGIUM OUT= (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Belgium special force officers climb the outside of a house as they prep[are to enter in the Rue Delaunoy in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean of Brussels, on November 16, 2015, several days after a series of deadly attacks on the French capital Paris. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to the November 13 attacks in Paris which left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/DIRK WAEM =BELGIUM OUT= (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers look on as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti terrorism police officers enter a building during a raid in the Mirail district in Toulouse, southwestern France, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls says there have been 150 police raids overnight in the country. (AP Photo) FRANCE OUT
A member of the special police forces takes a picture outside a house being searched in the Rue Delaunoy in Brussels on November 16, 2015. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris. Several terrorist attacks in Paris, France, have left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/BENOIT DOPPAGNE (Photo credit should read BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Security forces personnel walk past during ongoing operations in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Police men prepare for a raid in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. A major action with heavily armed police is underway in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek amid a manhunt for a suspect of the Paris attacks. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Police escort a woman away from the scene as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / BENOIT DOPPAGNE (Photo credit should read BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Heavily armed special forces stand guard outside a house being searched in the Rue Delaunoy in Brussels on November 16, 2015. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris. Several terrorist attacks in Paris, France, have left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/DIRK WAEM (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Police men prepare for a raid in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. A major action with heavily armed police is underway in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek amid a manhunt for a suspect of the Paris attacks. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Police officers man a cordon as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Heavily armed special forces stand guard outside a house being searched in the Rue Delaunoy in Brussels on November 16, 2015. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris. Several terrorist attacks in Paris, France, have left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/BENOIT DOPPAGNE (Photo credit should read BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Special force officers move into position outside a house being searched in the Rue Delaunoy in Brussels on November 16, 2015. During the weekend searches were carried out and multiple people were arrested in relation to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris. Several terrorist attacks in Paris, France, have left at least 129 dead and 350 injured. Most people were killed during a concert in venue Bataclan, the other targets were a restaurant and a soccer game. The attacks have been claimed by Islamic State. AFP PHOTO/BELGA/DIRK WAEM =BELGIUM OUT= (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
An anti-bomb robot is pictured on the scene of a bomb alert at the Rue des Deux Eglises (Tweekerkenstraat street) in downtown Brussels on November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / BELGA PHOTO / ERIC LALMAND ** Belgium Out ** (Photo credit should read ERIC LALMAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers man a cordon as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers man a cordon as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said. Armed police stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area of the capital while Belgian media said officers had surrounded a house. Belgian prosecutors had no immediate comment. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
This image taken from BFMTV, shows a car being towed away accompanied by security vehicles, in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, overnight Saturday/Sunday Nov. 14/15, 2015. A Seat car with suspected links to the Paris attacks has been found by police in Montreuil. An official could not immediately confirm if this was the same black Seat linked to the gun attacks on the Le Carillon bar and the Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in Rue Alibert in the city's 10th district. (BFMTV via AP)
A man is detained by a police officer after a raid in the Mirail district in Toulouse, southwestern France, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls says there have been 150 police raids overnight in the country. (AP Photo) FRANCE OUT
Belgian police cordon off a street during a police raid in connection with the November 13 deadly attacks in Paris, in Brussels' Molenbeek district on November 14, 2015. Several people were arrested in Brussels on November 14 during police raids connected to the attacks in Paris, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said. Geens said on RTBF television that these arrests in the capital's Molenbeek neighbourhood 'can be seen in connection with a grey Polo car rented in Belgium' found near the concert hall in the French capital where scores of people were killed. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE = BELGIUM OUT = (Photo credit should read JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE/AFP/Getty Images)
A car is towed during a police raid in Brussels' Molenbeek district on November 14, 2015, in connection with the November 13 deadly attacks in Paris. Several people were arrested in Brussels on November 14 during police raids connected to the attacks in Paris, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said. Geens said on RTBF television that these arrests in the capital's Molenbeek neighbourhood 'can be seen in connection with a grey Polo car rented in Belgium' found near the concert hall in the French capital where scores of people were killed. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE = BELGIUM OUT = (Photo credit should read JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE/AFP/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

"ALLAH BLINDED THEIR VISION"

After the Verviers raid, Abaaoud told the Dabiq online site: "They gathered intelligence agents from all over the world ... to detain me. They arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France, and Belgium in order to apprehend me." None of those were associates, he said, and he was able to make it back to Syria.

"Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave and come to Sham (Syria) despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies. All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely."

French and Belgian security officials believe Abaaoud has been closely involved with at least three other attacks. He was in contact with Mehdi Nemmouche, the Frenchman facing trial for killing four people at Brussels' Jewish Museum in May 2014.

He is suspected of a role in a failed attack on a church in a Paris suburb in April this year and in an abortive attempt by another man to shoot dozens of people aboard an Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris Thalys express train in August.

A French judicial source said a French jihadist questioned on his return to France from Syria in August said he was ordered by Abaaoud to travel via Prague to avoid detection and to scout out a soft target in Europe -- such as a concert hall -- to ensure a high death toll.

Roland Jacquard, a French security expert, said Abaaoud was part of a French-speaking brigade of Islamic State in Raqqa, which was targeted by French air strikes last month, and that he was subordinate to Salim Benghalem, a Frenchman on global most wanted lists and may have ultimately ordered the Paris attacks.

Omar Abaaoud, whose own father arrived in Belgium from Morocco four decades ago to work in the coalmines, told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws in January after the Verviers raid:

"We had a good, I'd say a fantastic life. Abdelhamid wasn't a difficult child and a good manager. But then he all of a sudden left for Syria.

"I think about why he left every day and why he turned so incredibly radical at such short notice. There will never be a real answer ... I don't understand why he wanted to attack Belgium. Our family owes everything to this country."

More from AOL.com:
Simon says part of 'You're So Vain' is about Warren Beatty
New bill in Congress proposes stricter vetting of refugees
Protesting Greek farmers clash with police in central Athens

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners