Source: France and allies tried to kill suspected attack mastermind previously
PARIS– Prior to the terrorist attacks in Paris, France and its allies had tried to target the prominent ISIS member who is believed to have planned the wave of deadly assaults, a French source close to the investigation said.
Western intelligence agencies had attempted to track Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen thought to be in Syria, but they weren’t able to locate him, the source told CNN on Tuesday.
Abaaoud had been implicated in the planning of a number of terrorist attacks and conspiracies in Western Europe before last Friday’s rampage in Paris by ISIS attackers armed with assault rifles and suicide vests who killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more.
Believed to be close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abaaoud was linked to a plan to attack Belgian police that was thwarted in January. He has since been featured in ISIS’ online English-language magazine. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Investigators have also been unable to find Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French citizen suspected of involvement in the Paris attacks who slipped through authorities’ grasp over the weekend.
New French raids, reported Germany arrests
France is under a state of emergency and struggling to come to terms with the horror unleashed by ISIS on the streets of its capital.
Security forces conducted more than 128 new raids around the country overnight, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday during a radio interview.
Declaring the country is “at war,” French President Francois Hollande has proposed extending the state of emergency for a further three months along with sweeping new anti-terrorism laws.
French warplanes have launched wave after wave of airstrikes on ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria in recent days, the latest taking place early Tuesday.
International efforts to track down surviving suspects tied directly to the brutal Paris attacks were believed to be still underway.
Reports in German media said Tuesday that three people were arrested near the German town of Aachen in connection with the Paris attacks. Details about the accusations they faced weren’t immediately available.
A major Belgian police operation Monday in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, an area with a history of links to Islamist terror plots, failed to yield any arrests.
Links to notorious Brussels suburb
Abaaoud and Abdeslam both have strong ties to Molenbeek.
Abdeslam is believed to be a longstanding associate of Abaaoud, with both men previously involved in gangs in Molenbeek that carried out robberies and other petty crime.
An international arrest warrant has been issued for Abdeslam, who is reported to have rented the car that was found outside the Bataclan concert hall, where three other attackers massacred 89 people.
Police stopped him hours after the attacks in a car on his way toward the Belgian border but let him go because he apparently hadn’t yet been linked to the terrorist operation.
Authorities say his older brother was one of the suicide bombers.
Belgian authorities say two men detained over the weekend in Molenbeek in connection with the attacks are now under arrest for “attempted terrorism and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.” Their identities haven’t been disclosed.
French officials have identified some of the dead Paris attackers, but two of them are still unknown and questions remain about the Syrian passport another of them was believed to have used to enter Europe along a route used by refugees and migrants.
French officials believe that six of the people directly involved in the attacks had spent time in Syria, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported Monday.
None of the individuals identified so far in the Paris attacks has been on any U.S. watch lists, multiple U.S. officials told CNN, raising questions about how effectively the U.S. and its allies are able to track foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq.
City on edge
On Monday, Parisians returned to school and work in a city scarred by its second major terror attack this year. In January, terrorists killed 17 people in a series of attacks that included the storming of the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
At one intersection, police who arrived to direct traffic Monday were met by worried pedestrians asking, “Is anything happening?”
At a Paris school, a father said, “It’s difficult to let them go off to school and for us to return to work, for everyone. We’re all just going to have to look out for one another.”
Tim Lister reported from Paris, and Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. Margot Haddad, Catherine E. Shoichet and Brian Walker contributed to this report.
By Jethro Mullen and Tim Lister