Nov 22, 2015 12:08 PM
Who were the Paris attackers? Many crossed officials' radar
The Associated Press
PARIS (AP) French police and prosecutors, friends and families, and journalists have unveiled details about the men accused of carrying out the attacks in Paris. Altogether, authorities say that three teams participated in the bloody assault. At least one suspected participant remains at large.
Here's what's known about the suspects:
ABDELHAMID ABAAOUD, 28
French investigators identified Belgian-born Abaaoud of Moroccan descent as the architect of the Paris attacks. A U.S. official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an Islamic State external operations cell that U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking for months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly.
Officials initially believed he had coordinated the assaults against a soccer stadium, cafes and a rock concert from Syria, but he died during a police raid Wednesday on a Paris apartment that was a 15-minute walk from the Stade de France.
Abaaoud was also suspected of involvement in several thwarted attacks this year, including on a church in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif, and possibly an attempted attack on a high-speed train when three Americans tackled a heavily armed man.
Abaaoud is believed to have gotten to know some of the attackers responsible for the Paris massacre in the Moleenbeek neighborhood of Brussels where he grew up.
How and when Abaaoud entered France before his death remained unclear. He had bragged in the Islamic State group's English-language magazine that he was able to slip in and out of Europe undetected.
Abaaoud was wanted in Belgium, where he was sentenced in absentia this year to 20 years' imprisonment for serving as an IS recruiter and kidnapping his younger brother, Younes. Belgian authorities say Abaaoud brought the boy, then 13, to Syria last year to join him in IS-controlled territory.
Three suicide bombers two who blew themselves up and one shot by police have been identified as targeting concert-goers at the Bataclan music venue:
ISMAEL OMAR MOSTEFAI, 29
Police say Mostefai blew himself up at the theater. Tall, quiet and conservatively dressed, Mostefai appears to have aroused little suspicion at the housing block he shared with his family in the French cathedral city of Chartres or at the nearby Anoussra Mosque. Arnauld Froissart, a 34-year-old bank employee who lives in the area, said Mostefai was "very discreet" and his family was "very nice."
French police believe Mostefai traveled to Syria in the past few years, although it's not clear what he did there.
At the Anoussra Mosque, Islamic association leader Ben Bammou confirmed that Mostefai was a regular mosque-goer until about two years ago. He said he saw no sign of fanaticism. "He was a reserved young man who played soccer with his colleagues; he was a baker who was coming to pray daily," he told The Associated Press.
SAMY AMIMOUR, 28
The Frenchman was charged in a terrorism investigation in 2012. He had been placed under judicial supervision but dropped off the radar and was the subject of an international arrest warrant.
Amimour, who had a short career as a bus driver, had already run into trouble with the law. French officials quizzed him on Oct. 19, 2012, over links to a network of terror sympathizers and an abortive trip to Yemen.
Amimour's father traveled to Islamic State-held territory in June 2014 in an effort to convince his son to leave Syria but was rebuffed, according to Le Monde newspaper. "He was with another guy, who never left us alone," the father said.
A third theater attacker remains unidentified.
Authorities say three suicide bombers were set to attack the Stade de France, though they were unable to get into the stadium and they killed only one bystander:
AHMAD AL-MOHAMMAD, 25
That's the name written on a Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers. The document describes Al-Mohammad as a 25-year-old from the rebel-held Syrian city Idlib. French officials said in a statement that the bomber's fingerprints match a set taken in Greece in October.
A Greek official says the person holding Al-Mohammad's passport went through administrative processing on the Greek island of Leros after setting out from Turkey, staying there for five days before arriving by ship in Athens. He later entered Serbia, where authorities took fingerprints that match those given in Greece, and he then crossed into Croatia the next day, according to a Serbian security official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
It's not known whether Al-Mohammad is the man's real name.
BILAL HADFI, age unclear.
A police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly identified Hadfi, a French citizen, as one of the three stadium bombers. Belgian police said they were keeping in custody a person linked to Hadfi in an investigation not directly related to the Paris attacks.
An official in the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said raids related to Hadfi targeted people in his "entourage."
The third stadium bomber hasn't been named, but French officials said he entered Greece at the same time as Al-Mohammed. More than a week after the attacks, authorities posted a photo of the man on Twitter as part of a new public appeal for help in identifying him.
Authorities have not publicly said how many attackers were involved in shooting attacks on a string of cafes in eastern Paris around the time of the Bataclan attack nearby. They have identified one attacker on the cafe Comptoir Voltaire:
BRAHIM ABDESLAM, 30 or 31
Abdeslam, elder brother of fugitive Salah Abdeslam, blew himself up outside the cafe.
A person in Belgium familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that Brahim Abdeslam became "close" with Abaaoud while living in the Molenbeek neighborhood.
His former lawyer, Olivier Martins, said Abdeslam had done a short prison term in Belgium for stealing official identity cards. "They sell for a lot of money to people who want to remain on Belgian territory," Martins told the AP.
Abdeslam, a French citizen, was arrested in 2003, admitted to stealing and reselling 10 or so of the cards from Belgian government offices, and spent a month in prison. Martins said he got him released, and that by the time the case came to court, in 2010, his client had sufficiently turned his life around that the judge let him go.
Abdeslam had opened a small restaurant, and "appeared to be on the right road." But Martins said he sensed problems.
"He was a kind, courteous, polite person," the lawyer said. "But in my opinion, he was someone who was very, very fragile and very easily influenced."
After a police investigation that lasted several weeks, officers determined this fall that drug dealing was taking place at Abdeslam's cafe, said Mustafa Er, spokesman for Molenbeek's mayor. On Nov. 4, Er said, Mayor Francoise Schepmans signed an order closing down the business.
HASNA AITBOULAHCEN, 26
Authorities say Aitboulahcen died in the police raid on the apartment where Abaaoud was holed up.
On Friday, prosecutors said she didn't kill herself by detonating a suicide vest as previously thought.
She had lived a secular life, drinking alcohol and rarely visiting a mosque. The lawyer for Abaaoud's father said Friday that Aitboulahcen was his niece, and therefore Abaaoud's cousin.
Born in the Paris suburb of Clichy-la-Garenne, Aitboulahcen moved to the eastern French town of Creutzwald with her parents and four siblings when she was 16. Some years later Aitboulahcen apparently left Creutzwald and settled in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Her father, who was born in Marrakech, and her older sister moved to Morocco.
Aitboulahcen is listed on company registration documents two years ago as manager of a construction company based in the Paris suburb of Epinay-sur-Seine that went bankrupt less than 10 months later.
Because her name came up in a drug-trafficking case, Aitboulahcen was under surveillance, and her movements may have led authorities to the Saint-Denis flat.
She, Abaaoud and one other as-yet-identified person were killed in the apartment raid. Authorities are investigating whether she had a role in the Paris attacks.
ON THE LOOSE
SALAH ABDESLAM, 26
Abdeslam, a Brussels-born man, is the brother of Brahim, who blew himself up outside the cafe Comptoir Voltaire.
Salah Abdeslam is sought as a suspected accomplice in the attacks and is described by French police as highly dangerous. He is the suspected driver of a group of gunmen during the attacks. Authorities identified him as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage-takers to the Paris theater.
Officials said Abdeslam entered Austria from Germany Nov. 9 with two unidentified companions and they were stopped for a routine traffic check. They said they were planning a vacation in Vienna.
The Abdeslam brothers booked a hotel in the southeastern Paris suburb of Alfortville and rented a house in the northeastern suburb of Bobigny several days before the attacks.
Hours after he was linked to the attacks, Abdeslam and two travelers were stopped in their car near the Belgian border. Four French officials acknowledged that police had Abdeslam in their grasp, but officials let him go after checking his ID.
Two men arrested in Belgium admitted driving to France to pick up Salah Abdeslam the morning after the attacks: Mohammed Amri, 27, and Hamza Attou, 21, are being held on charges of terrorist murder and conspiracy.
Salah's other brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, said all three siblings grew up in Belgium and seemingly were content with life in the West. "We are an open-minded family. We never had any problem with justice," he said.
DETAINED IN TURKEY
A senior Turkish government official said Saturday that Ahmad Dahmani, a 26-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, was detained in Turkey, suspected of being in contact with the Paris attackers.
The official, who cannot be named because of Turkish government rules that bar officials from speaking to reporters without prior authorization, said in an emailed message: "We believe that Dahmani was in contact with the terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks."
The private Dogan news agency reported that he is suspected of having explored areas in Paris that were targeted in the attacks.
Dahmani had arrived in Turkey from Amsterdam on Nov. 14, the day after the Paris attacks, the official said. He and two other men who were also detained all three suspected of being Islamic State militants were preparing to cross the Turkish-Syrian border, according to the official. They remained in custody following a court appearance.
Associated Press writers across Europe and in the United States contributed to this report, including Raf Casert and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Ken Dilanian in Washington.