Officials have named 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud as the alleged mastermind behind the horrifying attacks in Paris on Friday that killed at least 129 people and shocked the world.
Here is what we can confirm about Abaaoud: he is from Belgium, but of Moroccan descent, and was the leader of a Belgian jihadist network in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels. Earlier this year, he was charged with 20 years in prison for ISIS recruitment in Syria, as well as for running one of Belgium’s largest jihadist recruitment networks; however, he was tried in absentia and still remains at large.
Officials first named Abaaoud as an extremist in January after police raided an ISIS cell in Verviers when they discovered an assassination attempt on Belgian police officers. Abaaoud escaped during the gun fire.
Abaaoud has also been linked to multiple acts of terrorism within the past year—in August, a gunman opened fire on a high-speed train going from Amsterdam to Paris before he was thwarted by three U.S. citizens. In April, an attempted attack on a church in Paris was prevented when police discovered an arsenal of weapons. French officials have placed Abaaoud in connection to both incidents as the potential commander of their execution.
Prior to these events, it appears Abaaoud had little to no interest in his religion; his sister states that he hardly even attended the mosque. However, his father believes he was brainwashed in Belgium into joining ISIS, after which he left for Syria. Abaaoud also kidnapped his then 13-year-old brother and recruited him as well.
Despite being identified as an extremist by intelligence agencies, Abaaoud has been able to orchestrate and carry out his plans, as he revealed to the ISIS magazine Dabiq: “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 when doing so became necessary. I ask Allah to accept the fruitful deeds of the shuhad?’ [martyrs] who terrorised the crusaders of America, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and Belgium.”
Abaaoud’s father, Omar, has mourned that, “Abdelhamid has brought shame to our family. Our lives are equally destroyed. Why would he want to kill innocent Belgians? Our family owes everything to this country.”
His words serve as an important reminder to remain empathetic to Muslims in light of these attacks, as they, too, are suffering at the hands of ISIS.
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