Brussels ISIL terror cell

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The Brussels ISIL terror cell are a group of people who have been connected to large-scale attacks in Paris and Brussels, as well as other smaller scale terror attacks against European targets. The terror cell is connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist terrorist organisation primarily based in Syria and Iraq and led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Background

Before those attacks, several other Islamist terrorist attacks had originated from Belgium, and a number of counter-terrorist operations had been carried out there. In 2014, a gunman with ties to the Syrian Civil War attacked the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, killing four people.[1][2] In January 2015, anti-terrorist operations against a group thought to be planning a second Charlie Hebdo shooting had included raids in Brussels and Zaventem. The operation resulted in the deaths of two suspects.[3][4] In August 2015, a suspected terrorist shot and stabbed passengers aboard a high-speed train on its way from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels, before he was subdued by passengers.[5]

Belgium has more nationals fighting for jihadist forces as a proportion of its population than any other Western European country, with an estimated 440 Belgians having left for Syria and Iraq as of January 2015.[6][7] Due to Belgium's weak security apparatus and competing intelligence agencies, it has become a hub of jihadist-recruiting and terrorist activity.[8]

Main suspects

Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Abdelhamid Abaaoud (8 April 1987 – 18 November 2015) was a Belgian-Moroccan[9][10][11] Islamic terrorist, who had spent time in Syria, known as a place where radical groups operate and train.[12] He was suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have masterminded in the November 2015 Paris attacks.[13] Prior to the Paris attacks, there was an international arrest warrant issued for Abaaoud for his activities in recruiting individuals to Islamic terrorism in Syria.[14]

Salah Abdeslam

Salah Abdeslam (born 15 September 1989) is a Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent.[15][16] He is accused of involvement in the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, through providing logistical support for the assailants and driving them to their target locations.[15] He is thought to have been in charge of logistics for the group.[17]

Paris assailants

Nationalities of the terrorists[18]
Country Number from country
 France
5
 Belgium
2
 Iraq
2

Three teams, comprising three people each, executed the attacks.[18][19] They wore explosive vests and belts with identical detonators.[20] Seven perpetrators died at the scenes of their attacks.[21][22] The other two were killed five days later during the Saint-Denis police raid.

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up near the Stade de France:

  • Bilal Hadfi, a 20-year-old French citizen who had been living in Belgium. Hadfi attempted to enter the Stade de France but blew himself up nearby after being denied entry.[23] He fought with ISIL in Syria for more than a year and was a supporter of the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram.[24] In the months before the attacks, he was active on social media, posting pro-jihadist messages, and communicated with a Libyan branch of ISIL.[25] Belgian prosecutors knew Hadfi had gone to fight in Syria but did not know of his return to the EU.[23]
  • Another bomber carried a passport belonging to a 25-year-old Syrian named "Ahmad al-Mohammad".[23][24] A passport-holder claiming to be a Syrian refugee with that name was registered on Leros in October upon his arrival from Turkey.[26] The dead attacker's fingerprints matched those taken at the registration on Leros.[23][27][28][29][30] French officials concluded that "Ahmad al-Mohammad" is probably a dead Syrian soldier whose passport was stolen after he was killed in Syria.[31][32] ISIS identified him as "Ukasah al-Iraqi", indicating that he was from Iraq.[33]
  • The third bomber has not been named by French police yet, but his image released by the authorities has been matched by the BBC with a photo on arrival papers at Leros belonging to a man travelling together with "Ahmad al-Mohammed" under the name of "M. al-Mahmod".[34] Like the other unidentified bomber, ISIS identified him as an Iraqi and called him "Ali al-Iraqi".[33]

Two men alongside Abdelhamid Abaaoud[35][23] are thought to have carried out the shootings at bars and restaurants in Paris:

  • Brahim Abdeslam, a 31-year-old French member of the Molenbeek terror cell living in Belgium, carried out shootings in the 10th and 11th arrondissements. Shortly afterwards, he blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on the boulevard Voltaire.[36][23][24][37][38]
  • Chakib Akrouh, a 25-year-old Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent who blew himself up during the Saint-Denis police raid that occurred five days after the Paris attacks. Akrouh was not identified until 15 January 2016.[39]

Three other men attacked the Bataclan theatre using AKMs and took hostages.[36] Two blew themselves up when police raided the theatre. The third was hit by police gunfire and his vest blew up when he fell.[36] According to French police, they were:

  • Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old from Paris who fought in Yemen and was known to the intelligence services,[23][40] had reportedly been on the run from police since 2012 due to being wanted over terrorism related charges.[41]
  • Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year-old from the Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, of Algerian descent,[23] travelled to Syria in 2013 and may have spent time in Algeria.[42] In 2010, the French authorities had put Mostefai on a database of suspected Islamic radicals.[23] He was identified by a severed finger found inside the Bataclan.[24][43]
  • Foued Mohamed-Aggad, a 23-year-old from Strasbourg, of Moroccan descent, who travelled to Syria in 2013.[23][44]

Brussels suspects

Ibrahim El Bakraoui

Ibrahim El Bakraoui (9 October 1986 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, confirmed to be one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels Airport during the Brussels bombings in 2016.[45][46]

Khalid El Bakraoui

Khalid El Bakraoui (12 January 1989 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian national of Moroccan descent and the brother of Khalid El Bakraoui, confirmed to be the suicide bomber who attacked Maalbeek metro station during the Brussels bombings.[45][46]

Najim Laachraoui

Najim Laachraoui (18 May 1991 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian-Moroccan national, confirmed to be the second suicide bomber at the Brussels Airport in the Brussels bombings. He is also suspected of making the bombs used in the November 2015 Paris attacks.[47] In addition, Laachraoui was a suspected accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, the surviving member of the group directly linked to the Paris attacks.[48]

Mohamed Abrini

Mohamed Abrini (born 27 December 1984)[49] is a Belgian national of Moroccan descent who is alleged to have been involved in the planning and execution of the Paris attacks and the Brussels bombings.[50] He was filmed together with Laachraoui and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui at the Brussels Airport before the bombings occurred.[51]

Osama Krayem

Osama Krayem (born 1992) is a Swedish national of Syrian origin suspected of involvement in the Brussels bombings.[52][53] Krayem was the second bomber at the Maalbeek metro station, having been filmed with Khalid El Bakraoui at another metro station minutes before the attack.[54][55]

Other suspects

November 2015 Paris attacks

On 14 November, a car was stopped at the Belgium–France border and its three occupants were questioned then released. Three more people were arrested in Molenbeek.[56] Links to the attacks were investigated in an arrest in Germany on 5 November, when police stopped a 51-year-old man from Montenegro and found automatic handguns, hand grenades and explosives in his car.[57]

On 15–16 November, French tactical police units raided over 200 locations in France, arresting 23 people and seizing weapons.[58] Another 104 people were placed under house arrest.[59][60]

On 17 November, police followed a cousin of the attacker and ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, to a block of flats in Saint-Denis where they saw Abaaoud with her.[61][62] Following a police raid on a flat in Saint-Denis during the next day, in which Abaaoud and restaurant shooter Chakib Akrouh died, which lasted several hours,[63][64][65][39] eight suspected militants were arrested at or near the flat.[66]

On 24 November, five people in Belgium had been charged on suspicion of their involvement in the Paris attacks, and Belgian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Mohamed Abrini, a 30-year-old suspected accomplice of Salah Abdeslam.[67] Abrini was subsequently reported to have been arrested on 8 April 2016. He is also suspected of having been involved in the bombings in Brussels four months later.[68]

A person involved in the attacks made phone calls to Birmingham, England, just prior to the day of the attacks.[69]

Fabien Clain

Fabien Clain (born ca. 1977/1978) was identified as the person who released an audio recording the day before the Paris attacks in which he personally claimed responsibility for the attacks. Clain is known to intelligence services as a veteran jihadist belonging to ISIL, and of French nationality.[70] A French national, he served 5 years from 2009 to 2014 in a French prison for recruiting fighters to go to Syria to join militant groups. Clain has been linked to other executed and planned terror attacks and is seen as a leader of known terrorists.[71]

Arrests during 2016 Brussels raids

On 15 March, police carried out a raid on a house in Forest, a suburb of Brussels, in relation to the November 2015 Paris attacks.[72][73] Four police officers were wounded in the raid,[74] while one suspect was killed.[75] The deceased suspect was identified as Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian citizen.[76]

Three days later on 18 March, a second raid was conducted in the Molenbeek area of Brussels.[77] Five people, including Salah Abdeslam, three of Abdeslam's relatives, and Monir Ahmed Alaaj, were arrested. Abdeslam and Alaaj were both injured during the raid.[78][79][80][81][82]

2016 Brussels bombings

On 24 March, six people were arrested in police raids in Brussels, Jette and Schaerbeek, all in connection with the investigation into the bombings.[83]

As of 26 March, twelve men were arrested in connection with the bombings.[84] The same day, Belgian prosecutors charged Fayçal Cheffou, who had been detained two days prior in front of the Belgian prosecutor's office, with "terrorist murders, attempted murder relating to terror plots, and links to terror groups"; Cheffou was suspected of being the man on the right in the CCTV footage of the airport.[85] However, on 28 March, Cheffou was released due to a lack of evidence.[86]

On 27 March, an Algerian who was part of a counterfeiting ring that provided forged documents to the perpetrators in both the Paris and Brussels attacks was arrested in Italy. The Belgian government had issued a European Arrest Warrant for the man, who the ANSA news agency identified as 40-year-old Djamal Eddine Ouali on 6 January. Ouali's name emerged during searches carried out in October in the Saint-Gilles borough of Brussels, which yielded around 1,000 digital images that were being used to make false identity documents.[87]

Two men were detained on 25 March but later exonerated for suspected connections to the cell. The first, a 28-year-old failed, Moroccan, male asylum-seeker, was detained following a routine police check in Giessen, Germany, for being in contact with the Brussels attackers' immediate network.[88] He had an acquaintance with a similar name to Khalid El Bakraoui, and a text message with the word "fin" was found on his cell phone; the "fin" was initially interpreted as "the end" in French, though it turned out to be the word "where" transcribed from Arabic language. The second man, identified only as Samir E., was arrested in Düsseldorf, Germany, in connection with the bombings.[89]

Planned terrorist activities

The cell initially planned to launch a second assault on Paris following the November 2015 attacks there. However, they chose to rush an attack on Brussels after being surprised by the progress of the French investigation.[90]

See also

References

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