19 Nov 2015

Abdelhamid Abaaoud: the life and crimes of Paris mastermind

The name Abdelhamid Abaaoud will always be synonymous with the deaths of 129 innocent people in the Paris terror attacks, but he had achieved notoriety before then.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud (Reuters)

Twenty-seven-year-old Abaaoud’s death was announced today by the Paris prosecutor following a police shootout during a raid on a flat in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.

He was the suspected mastermind of last Friday’s attacks in Paris at the Bataclan theatre, bars and restaurants and the Stade de France.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that of six terror plots foiled by the security services since the spring, Abaaoud was involved in four of them.

He said the French authorities had not known before the attacks that Abaaoud, an Islamic State jihadi from Belgium, was in France.

The government had only heard about his whereabouts on Monday after a tip-off from an intelligence service outside Europe, he said. Before then, he was thought to be in Syria.

French officials confirmed on Monday that he was believed to have orchestrated the attacks.

High-speed train

In August, he was linked to a thwarted attack on a Paris-bound high-speed train, which came to an end when the gunman was overpowered by American passengers. He is also thought to have been involved in an attempted attack on a church in the Paris area.

Born in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, the son of a successful shopkeeper from Morocco, Abaaoud fought with IS in Syria and persuaded his 13-year-old brother Younes to join him there.

Last year, a video emerged of him and other IS extremists loading a pick-up truck and trailer with dead bodies.

‘We’re towing apostates’

Speaking before driving off, he said: “Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God’s path, we’re towing apostates.”

In 2010, he served time in prison for robbery. Alongside him was Salah Abdeslam, who is thought to have rented a car used in the attacks.

Abdeslam returned from Paris to Brussels on Saturday morning, despite being stopped by French police on three occasions during his journey. His brother, Ibrahim, was killed in the attack.

Suicide bomber

When police burst into the flat Abaaoud was hiding in on Wednesday, they were confronted by his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen, who blew herself up, becoming Europe’s first woman suicide bomber.

Abaaoud is credited with being able to travel undetected between Syria and Europe, despite being a wanted man. It is thought he may have posed as a refugee when he last travelled back to Belgium.