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What We Know About the Alleged Mastermind Behind the Paris Attacks

French authorities have embarked on a massive manhunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian national who was allegedly behind a foiled terrorist attack in January.

by Olivia Becker
Nov 16 2015, 1:50pm

Photo via Dabiq Magazine (magazine de propagande de l'organisation terroriste État islamique)

This is not the first time that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind behind Friday's terrorist attack in Paris that left more than 130 people dead, has been linked to terror plots in Europe.

On Monday, French authorities embarked on a massive manhunt for Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian national of Moroccan descent from the Brussels' suburb of Molenbeek, where at least three other suspects are also from. Early reports indicate that Abaaoud has already fled to Syria.

A source close to the French investigation told Reuters that "He appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe."

Abaaoud first became widely known as a terrorism suspect last January, after Belgian media reported that he was behind a foiled attack in Belgium which aimed to kill police officers. 

Belgian authorities carried out an anti-terror raid in Verviers, outside of Brussels to destroy a suspected Islamic State (IS) cell, killing two suspected IS members in the ensuing gun battle but leaving Abaaoud at large.

"Last night's arrests did not succeed in nabbing the right person," Belgian justice minister Koen Geens, said in January. "We are still actively looking for him and I presume we will succeed."

Shortly after the raid, Abaaoud, going by the name Abu Umar al-Baljiki, gave an interview with the IS propaganda magazine Dabiq, boasting about his role in the foiled Belgium attack.

Abaaoud describes how he and two other IS members spent months trying to get into Europe, in order to set up the terror cell and carry out attacks against "the crusaders waging war against the Muslims."  

In photographs accompanying the interview, Abaaoud is pictured with two of the alleged IS members he says Belgian authorities killed during the anti-terror operation, named Abu Khalid al-Baljiki and Abuz-Zubayr al-Baljik.

Abaaoud described fleeing to Syria after being pursued by European and American intelligence authorities. He was even stopped by an officer but then let go after the officer failed to recognize him, he said. "I suddenly saw my picture all over the media," he told the magazine, "but [thank God] the [infidels] were blinded by Allah."

He spent time fighting alongside IS in Syria, once appearing in a video driving a car transporting bodies to a mass grave, and was also involved in trying to recruit other westerners, reported the Guardian. French media have said he recruited his 13-year-old brother.

Abbaoud is also suspected for being behind several other foiled terror attacks in the past year, including the attempt to shoot passengers on an Amsterdam-Brussels train in August and a planned attack on a church in Paris in April. 

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928