As the investigation into the Paris terror attacks continues, one thing has become clear: The attacks started in — and may have been directed from — neighboring Belgium.
After accessing 6,000 official records from the ongoing police investigation, French daily Le Monde has reconstructed the days that led to the coordinated attacks that brought the French capital to a standstill and left 130 people dead.
On November 13, three teams of gunmen attacked three targets in Paris: the Stade de France, the Bataclan concert hall, and cafés and restaurants in the 11th and 12th Arrondissements. The attackers used three vehicles: a Renault Clio, a SEAT, and a Volkswagen Polo.
In the early hours of November 12, the Clio and the SEAT were spotted in a backstreet of Molenbeek, a neighborhood of Brussels that has been labeled "the heart of jihadism" in Europe. Three men reportedly exited the vehicles and exchanged a package.
According to investigators, the men in the cars were Salah Abdeslam, now one of the world's most wanted fugitives, his brother Brahim, who blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire café, and Mohamed Abrini, a 30-year-old Belgian man who helped mastermind the attack. Like Abdeslam, Abrini still remains at large.
First Stop: Charleroi
Le Monde revealed that, prior to meeting up in Molenbeek, the cars made a brief stop in the Belgian city of Charleroi, spending time in a neighborhood infamous for weapons and drugs trafficking.
At around 4pm on November 12, the two cars set off for Paris. There, they were met by a third vehicle, which would transport the third team of attackers.
In Paris, the attackers split up into two groups. The Bataclan attackers took a hotel room in the southeast Paris suburb of Alfortville. The men who would carry out the attacks at the stadium and along the busy sidewalks of the 11th and 12th Arrondissements spent the night in a house in the northeastern Paris suburb of Bobigny. Investigators found a roll of Scotch tape in the house that the attackers used to assemble their explosive belts.
Watch the VICE News dispatch What's Next For Paris?: France At War:
A Mysterious Trip to the Airport
At 6pm on November 13, the Clio traveled to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and remained there until 7:20pm. Investigators still aren't sure about the purpose of this brief stop. At 7:40pm, the three Bataclan attackers left their hotel in the Polo. At 8:29pm, Salah Abdeslam drove the third car to the Stade de France, where he dropped off three of his accomplices, each of them wearing a belt packed with explosives. At 8:39pm, the SEAT continued toward the 11th Arrondissement.
Salah Abdeslam, Bilal Hadfi, and two unidentified men carrying fake Syrian passports rode in the Clio. So far, the only thing known about the unidentified men is that they entered Europe at the start of October.
Riding in the SEAT were Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Brahim Abdeslam, and a third man, who may have died in the police raid on Abaaoud's hideout in Saint-Denis, in the early hours of November 18.
Omar Ismail Mostefaï, Samy Amimour, and Foued Mohamed-Aggad rode in the Polo. Their car was headed to the Bataclan concert hall, where 1,500 people gathered to hear the Eagles of Death Metal perform.
Attacks Likely Coordinated in Belgium
Le Monde also confirmed earlier reports that three Bataclan gunmen were communicating with an individual in Belgium until the moment the attack began. Investigators found a white Samsung mobile phone bearing the DNA of Mostefaï and Mohamed-Aggad in a trash can near the Bataclan. The discarded phone contained a text message sent at 9:42pm to an unknown contact in Belgium.
"We've left," the message said. "We're starting." The contact communicated a total of 25 times with the attackers, disabling the line immediately after receiving the text message announcing the start of the attack.
Abaaoud was also in touch with someone in Belgium on the night of November 13. Investigators have established that the two Belgian phone lines were situated at the exact same location, suggesting both teams in Paris were communicating with the same person.
Paris Associate Killed in Syria
An associate of the Paris attackers was recently killed in an airstrike in Syria. Charaffe Al-Mouadan, a 26-year-old Syria-based member of the Islamic State (IS), was born in the northeastern Paris suburb of Bondy and was a close friend of Amimour, one of the Bataclan gunman. They were both arrested in October 2012 for suspected terror activity, a year before Al-Mouadan relocated to Syria to join IS.
Al-Mouadan — who went by the nickname "Souleymane" — was also friends with Abaaoud. Radio station France Info revealed the existence of a photograph that shows Al-Mouadan posing with Abaaoud's younger brother in Syria.
"A figure of the jihadosphere for over two years, Aba Souleymane was still very active on Twitter a few weeks ago."
Investigators turned their attention to Al-Mouadan after one of the Bataclan survivors said he overheard Mostefaï refer to a man called "Souleymane." According to the witness, Mostefaï asked Amimour whether he was planning to "get in touch with Souleymane."
In a statement released on Tuesday, US coalition spokesman Steve Warren said that Al-Mouadan was one of 10 IS leaders killed in targeted airstrikes. Several of these leaders, he noted, were directly linked to attacks abroad — including the Paris attacks.
According to David Thompson, a reporter for French radio station RFI, Al-Mouadan was not a leader of the group — just a fighter with a strong social media presence.
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