A citywide manhunt for 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic extremist thought to be the mastermind behind the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France where at least 129 people were killed, ended on Wednesday when he was killed by police.
The Guardian reported that Abaaoud, who is thought to have been in Syria since 2014 but returned to Europe at least once, was one of two people killed in a ferocious gunfight between police and suspected terrorists at their hideout in the north of Paris. In a brief statement on Thursday, the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed that Abaaoud, who was also wanted for at least two other failed terrorist attacks in France, was among the dead.
CNN reports that residents in Saint-Denis claimed they had seen Abaaoud in the neighborhood and at a local mosque before the gunfight. Authorities reportedly zeroed in on the building after they picked up phone conversations, indicating that one of his relatives was in the area.
The dramatic raid on Wednesday not only shook the whole neighborhood of Saint-Denis but collapsed an entire floor of an apartment building, according to reports.
The following day, officials confirmed they’d identified the body of Abaaoud, and one other, a 26-year-old woman named Hasna Aitboulahcen, who is believed to be a relative of the hunted man. Their bodies were found in the rubble of the apartment on the rue du Corbillon and Abaaoud’s body could only be identified through known DNA and skin samples, according to reports.
Another as yet unidentified man was killed in the shootout as he was hit by multiple gunshots and a grenade during the seven-hour assault on the apartment block, The Guardian reports. Police said that Aitboulahcen blew herself up by detonating an explosive vest as the culmination of the encounter neared and parts of her body landed on a police car.
The French-Moroccan national had reportedly exchanged words with the swat team seconds before detonating her explosive vest. She told them “He’s not my boyfriend,” when she was asked of Abaaoud, “Where is your boyfriend?”
Abaaoud, who studied at one of Belgium’s top high schools, reportedly joined ISIS in 2013 after being arrested and jailed for armed robbery in 2010. He often boasted of the lack of ability by authorities to apprehend him and claimed he could slip in an out of Europe from Syria, as and when he desired.
After escaping capture in a raid in which two suspected terrorists were killed during a gunfight with security forces in Verviers, Belgium, Abaaoud bragged that he had again avoided detection. He was suspected of helping to set up the terrorist cell, which one magistrate said had been prevented from committing a “major, imminent attack in Belgium.”
“I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!” Abaaoud bragged in January. “This was nothing but a gift from Allah,” he added.
In a notorious 2014 ISIS propaganda video, Abaaoud is seen loading a pickup truck and trailer with the dead bodies of men he had recently killed. He had allegedly dragged the men while they were still alive behind him as he drove the truck.
“Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco,” Abaaoud was captured as saying by independent journalists. “Now, thank God, following God’s path, we’re towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us,” he added.
The Daily Mail reported that French prosecutors said that Abaaoud’s body was so “riddled with bullets,” after being first shot by a French sniper, that it was unclear at first if he had detonated a suicide belt or not.
While others are demanding the French authorities explain how they allowed the know terrorist to operate freely in their county, the country’s Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve issued a statement in their defense.
Cazeneuve said that French authorities did not know before last week’s deadly attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe.
There was “no information given to us, coming from European countries, where he could have transited before arriving in France,” Cazeneuve said. “It was only on November 16, after the Paris attacks, that an intelligence service outside Europe signaled that he had been aware of his presence in Greece,” he added.
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