Abdelhamid Abaaoud: Paris attacks 'mastermind' never attended mosque, family says

The former Catholic school student was believed to be in Syria - before it emerged he was killed in a major police raid in northern Paris

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind behind the Paris attacks, died during a major police raid in a northern suburb of the French capital.

Officials confirmed Abaaoud was the target of the operation that developed into a siege in St Denis on Wednesday, as more details emerged about the man thought to have arranged the shootings which killed 129 people on Friday night.

Now a prominent member of Isis, Abaaoud first travelled to Syria last year - but seemingly not out of any great religious motivation.

"He did not even go to the mosque,” his older sister Yasmina told the New York Times earlier this year.

Like many who travel to the so-called “Islamic State”, his actions appear to have been motivated more by a thirst for power, violence and unaccountability.

Who was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, mastermind of the Paris attacks?

Abaaoud, in his late 20s, was born in Belgium and grew up in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, which has become a key focus for investigators in recent days.

He briefly studied at an exclusive Catholic school, before either dropping out or getting expelled and drifting into a life of thievery and drugs.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud boasted of his escape from authorities in Belgium following a failed terrorist attack in an interview published in Isis' propaganda magazine in February

According to his family, the young man showed much more interest in petty crime than Islam, and they were shocked when he took his 13-year-old brother Younes with him to travel to Syria in January 2014.

After he was trained and further radicalised in Syria, Abaaoud was able to return to Europe via Athens. He was picked up by European security services and reportedly even stopped by police but let go, after which he disappeared.

Officials identified the suspected mastermind as Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin in his late twenties

In February, he gave an interview to the Islamic State English-language magazine Dabiq which suggested he was in Syria.

In the interview he claimed he had travelled to Belgium to "terrorise the crusaders waging war against the Muslims".

He also claimed a police officer who stopped him had failed to recognise him even after his picture had been sold to the media.

He said: "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 claimed he was able to travel “safely” back to Syria when it suited him. He said: “I was able to leave and come to Sham (Syria) despite being chased by so many intelligence agencies.

“All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”

Abaaoud is believed to have had links to previous foiled terror attacks in France, including one on a Paris-bound high-speed train that was thwarted when passengers overpowered a gunman in August. He was thought to have been involved in the attack remotely from Syria – a theory thrown into doubt by this week’s developments.