The suspected mastermind behind the Paris terror attacks boasted about his intention to “terrorise” Europe in an interview earlier this year.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is still at large following the shootings and bombings that killed 129 people and injured hundreds on Friday night, had been linked to previous plots that were thwarted by police.
The 27-year-old joined Isis in Syria in 2013, where he goes under the name Abu Umar al-Baljiki and was seen in a video transporting mutilated bodies to a mass grave.
Video: Police raid Paris bomber's home
But after training with the terrorist group he returned to Belgium in order to carry out an attack in his home country days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January.
Abaaoud and two other Belgian jihadists, Khalid Ben Larbi and Sufian Amghar, planned to kill police officers but their hideout in Verviers was raided before they could carry it out.
Ben Larbi and Amghar were killed in a shoot-out with police, who found Kalashnikovs, bomb-making equipment and police uniforms on 15 January.
But Abaaoud was not in the house at the time and managed to escape back to Syria, being featured in the seventh issue of Isis’ Dabiq propaganda magazine the following month.
He said he and his two countrymen had trained in Syria with Isis before returning to Europe “in order to terrorise the crusaders waging war against the Muslims”.
Citing Belgium as one of the countries bombing Isis, he said the militants struggled for months to find a way back to the country but were “then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders”.
Abaaoud claimed he had been previously imprisoned by Belgian authorities and was known to security services but had managed to slip through the net time and time again.
He said a photo was released of him before he escaped the country following the foiled attack in January.
“I suddenly saw my picture all over the media,” he was quoted as saying. “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 boasted that “intelligence agents all over the world” tried to track him but arrests made in several countries were unconnected.
“Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave and come to Shām despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies,” he continued.
“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.”
The same issue of the magazine celebrated the attack on a Jewish supermarket attack carried out by Isis follower Amedy Coulibaly, following the al-Qaeda inspired Charlie Hebdo massacre.
A French official told the Associated Press Abaaoud was involved in the attack that saw a Moroccan man open fire with a Kalashnikov on a high-speed train to Paris in August. He was tackled by passengers and arrested.
Another planned attack involving Abaaoud against a church in Paris’ suburbs was also stopped.
Said to be the son of a shopkeeper from Morocco, he reportedly joined Isis in Syria in 2013 and appeared in a video driving a van carrying a pile of mutilated bodies to a mass grave.
Belgian media reported that he recruited his own 14-year-old brother, Younes Abaaoud, who is believed to be one of the youngest fighters in the so called-Islamic State.
Charlie Winter, a security analyst specialising in Isis, told The Independent Abaaoud’s profile would fit that of someone capable of planning the massacres in Paris.
“He’s exactly the kind of person you would expect to plan something like this,” he said.
“You don’t go from never trying anything to masterminding an attack involving multiple attackers, multiple targets and multiple weapons.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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