French officials identified the mastermind behind the attacks that killed 132 people in Paris last weekend as Belgian national Albdelhamid Abaaoud. The Associated Press first announced this on Monday. Abaaoud is believed to be linked to thwarted attacks on a high-speed train bound for the French capital and a church in the Paris area earlier this year. Abaaoud is described as one of the most active ISIS executioners in Syria. Abaaoud is currently in Syria, according to Reuters.
Another suspect, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, had been stopped at the French border with Belgium early Saturday, hours after the attacks, the Associated Press reported. Three French police officials and a top French security official told the news agency that border officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Bataclan, where 89 concert-goers were murdered by terrorists.
Three Kalashnikovs were found inside another car, a Belgian-registered Seat Leon known to have been used in the attacks, in Montreuil, an eastern Parisian suburb, another French police official said. The scope of the terror threats facing Western Europe became clearer as French law enforcement uncovered an “arsenal” of weapons as part of 168 early morning raids on suspected Isalmists across France.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said raids were carried out on 168 locations across France overnight, and 104 people have been placed under house arrest over the past two days. French media reported that five people were arrested and police seized weapons including a rocket launcher at an apartment in Lyon.
It’s just a start,” Cazeneuve said, “these operations are going to continue, the response of the Republic will be huge, will be total. The one who targets the Republic, the Republic will catch him, will be implacable.”
The raids follow a massive airstrike by French military targeting ISIS training camps, a command and control center, a jihadi recruitment center and a munitions depot. France’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Raqqa is the de facto capital of ISIS’ “caliphate.” The raid was launched from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan and was carried out in coordination with U.S. forces. A Pentagon source told Fox News, “these were French strikes but they were conducted within the coalition. We helped with [the] target list.”
Paris prosecutor’s office identified two more of the attackers. One of the suicide bombers who blew himself up in the Bataclan concert hall after helping to murder 89 concert-goers was identified as 28-year-old Samy Amimour, a French national who had been charged with terrorism offenses in 2012 and was the subject of an international arrest warrant. Also, a suicide bomber who was at the soccer stadium was found with a Syrian passport with the name Ahmad Al Mohammad.
According to The Daily Telegraph, investigators were forced to expand their investigation after a parking ticket inside a discarded Volkswagen Polo believed to have carried one group of attackers to the Bataclan Friday night was from Molenbeek, known as a hotbed of radical Islam in the Belgian capital. French officials reported that American security services had alerted the Paris government last fall that French jihadists were planning some kind of attack. That warning led to French airstrikes against Raqqa last month.