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France knows who masterminded the Paris attacks — but won't say who it was

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was long considered the mastermind behind the attacks, appears to have played a lesser role in the tragic events of November 2015.

by VICE News
Jul 13 2016, 2:35pm

A large crowd gathers to lay flowers and candles in front of the Carillon restaurant in Paris, France, 15 November 2015. (Ian Langsdon/EPA)

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, long considered the mastermind behind the November 13 attacks that killed 130 in Paris, merely coordinated rather than masterminded the rampage, according to France's head of external security.

Speaking to a closed-door parliamentary inquiry on May 24, Bernard Bajolet said that security services were aware of who had ordered the attacks, but that they would "stay discreet on that point." So discreet, in fact, that it is unclear whether the suspected mastermind is even alive.

"We now have a good knowledge of the organizational chart and of the way in which the so-called Islamic State — which is not a state, and is even less Islamic — is organized," Bajolet told the commission. "We have made progress in these areas, we therefore have an idea of the identity of the commander."

Bajolet's testimony to the commission in charge of the inquiry was made public Tuesday.

A report published by the commission shows that Bajolet acknowledged both foreign and domestic intelligence failings, since the attacks were planned in Belgium but carried out on French soil.

Related: Suspected Paris Attacker Salah Abdeslam Has Been Charged With 'Terrorist Murder'

The head of the DGSE — the Directorate General of External Security — also told the commission that authorities had been monitoring Abaaoud and the terror cell he was a part of since January 2015, and that French authorities had helped their Belgium counterparts thwart an attack.

Head of the Directorate General of Internal Security (DGSI) Patrick Calvar told the same commission that the attacks had been ordered in Syria, planned in Belgium, and that the attackers traveled to France on the eve of the attack — allowing them to slip through the nets of the French intelligence services.

Bajolet added that the attackers' use of 'burner' phones and encrypted communications made surveillance even more complicated. He explained that attackers are often given "a degree of autonomy" once they have been handed a mission, and that intelligence services have to rely on "human sources" to penetrate these guarded cells.

In his audition, Bajolet said he endorsed the creation of a "common tool" — a centralized database that would allow France's various counter-terrorism services to share information more effectively.

When asked if he knew when the Islamic State might be defeated, Bajolet said that it would be "a long-fought battle," and that political, social, and educational measures were needed to prevent radicalization in France.

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