Behold! A terrorist “mastermind”:
That’s Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the 27-year old Belgian/ Moroccan that, as we outlined on Monday, is the alleged ringleader of the attacks that killed 129 in Paris last Friday.
Oh what a difference a decade makes. Compare and contrast:
But you know what they say, "you can't judge a jihadist book by its cover," and by all accounts, Abaaoud isn't as friendly in person as he appears in the photos shown above - at least not if you're an infidel.
Abaaoud apparently popped onto authorities' radar screens after a January raid in Verviers, Belgium where police claimed to have disrupted an ISIS cell just prior to an attack.
"This was in the framework of an operation looking into an operational cell made up of people, some of whom coming back from Syria. The investigation made it possible to determine that the group was about to carry out major terrorist attacks in Belgium imminently," prosecutor's spokesman Thierry Werts said at the time.
Three people were targeted during the raid, two of whom were killed after a shootout with police. Here's video footage shot by a neighbor:
According to CNN, "Abaaoud, who lived at one point in Molenbeek -- where several raids were conducted Monday -- was apparently in touch by phone with the three ISIS fighters targeted in the January raid. In the weeks preceding that raid, Belgian counterterrorism agencies traced the calls to a cell phone in Greece that they believed was being used by Abaaoud."
Here is Abaaoud's account of the battle as published in Dabiq (embedded below):
Dabiq: What happened on the day of the battle with the Belgian authorities?
Abaaoud: Abuz-Zubayr and Abu Khalid were together and had their weapons and explosives ready. 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, which is what they had desired for so long. I ask Allah to accept them both.
So commandos raided the safehouse and Abaaoud's operatives were shot and killed. Got it. Here's Abaaoud with the two men killed in Belgium:
Anyway, Abaaoud was apparently the cell's link to the ISIS senior command (the ones in Raqqa not the ones at Langley). According to Abaaoud (who quite possibly had delusions of grandeur at the time of the Dabiq interview), Belgium "gathered intelligence agents from all over the world" in a futile attempt to track him down after the Verviers raid.
After being "chased by all those intelligence agents," Abaaoud escaped to Syria after Allah "blinded [the authorities'] vision."
Shortly after the attacks, journalist Etienne Huver obtained Abaaoud's cell phone (Abaaoud told Dabiq it was "lost" and later "sold" to a Western journalist). Huver aired the footage. Here it is:
And here's some color, Google translated from the original RTBF piece:
An exceptional document 7 on A. The contents of the cell phone the most wanted man in Europe. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged sponsor of foiled attacks last week leading the jihad in Syria as if it were vacation. The fighting and atrocities and more.
These images are not images of propaganda, it is the mobile phone of the contents of a jihadist wanted by all Europe, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged sponsor of foiled attacks last week in Belgium.
The first images are uplifting banality. Around pictures, charming images, some cartoons ... Well no wonder, rather, a fairly standard inventory the contents of a GSM young Belgian. But from January 7, 2014, the data from this device indicate that looking to rent spacious, fast cars, obviously for a long drive.
We do not find pictures of the trip in his phone but early February snapshots show that has arrived in Syria. Selfies of which is often seen smiling, posing with other fighters.
As The New York Times reported back in January, "when Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born son of an immigrant shopkeeper from Morocco, went to Syria a year ago to wage jihad, nobody paid much attention." It was only when "a few months later" Abaaoud brought his own 13-year-old brother to Syria, that people took notice.
The younger brother -who is apparently now known as "the youngest jihadi in the world" - left Belgium just after Abbaoud was seen dragging a pile of mutilated bodies from the back of pickup truck (depicted in the video above). Here's more from The Times:
Yasmina Abaaoud, Mr. Abaaoud’s older sister, a professional woman who does not wear a veil and now lives in a more upscale area of Brussels, said neither of the brothers who went to Syria ever showed a zealous interest in religion before their departure. “They did not even go to the mosque,” she said.
The whereabouts of Mr. Abaaoud, also known as Abou Omar Soussi, is not known. His sister Yasmina said the family received calls last fall from Syria saying he had become a “martyr,” meaning he had been killed in battle. She said the family has not heard from him or the younger brother, now 14, since.
But investigators now believe the “martyr” report was a ruse to try to throw Western intelligence services off his scent so that he could try to re-enter Europe.
Yes, indeed that now appears to have been a "ruse."
Reports also indicate Abbaoud was behind the train attack that was famously foiled by American soldiers, winning one the medal of honor. "One French official with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that Abaaoud is believed to have links to earlier terror attacks that were thwarted: one against a Paris-bound high-speed train that was foiled by three young Americans in August, and the other against a church in the French capital's suburbs," AP reported earlier today.
Whatever his role in the Paris massacre or in any other attacks recently perpetrated in the name of ISIS, the interesting thing here is that this most certainly is not a battle-hardened Mujahideen who earned his stripes fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
No, Abbaoud is just a kid from Belgium. He's the son of an immigrant shopkeeper from Morocco, he wasn't religious (according to his sister), and he spent a year at Collège Saint-Pierre, a prestigious Catholic school. Here's his school picture:
With all of the above in mind, we close with two quotes, one from a former classmate, describing Abaaoud and one from Abaaoud himself.
From a classmate (translated): "...he liked to do small silly things, it trifouillait in our lockers to put a bit of a mess, but never any flights. He got along well with everyone, it was often with a group of boys who loved playing football, set of classroom atmosphere. It was even a little flirty which was related quite normal with the girls in the class."
From Abaaoud: “Are you satisfied with the life you lead, a humiliating life, whether you are in Europe, in Africa, in Arab countries or in America? Are you satisfied with this life, with this life of humiliation? Only violent jihad [can] restore [your] pride and honor. You will find this only in your religion, only in jihad. Is there anything better than jihad or a martyr?”