French warplanes carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria for a second consecutive night early Tuesday, as a new report claimed the U.S. and its allies had in recent weeks targeted the Belgian jihadist suspected of masterminding Friday’s terror attacks in Paris.
The AFP news agency, citing France’s Defense Ministry, reported that a total of 16 bombs were dropped from ten fighter jets that targeted a command center and training center in Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS “caliphate.” The ministry’s statement said the airstrikes were “conducted in coordination with US forces” and “aimed at sites identified during reconnaissance missions previously carried out by France.”
Late Sunday, the first round of French airstrikes since the attacks that killed 129 people hit a dozen ISIS targets, including a command and recruitment center, a munitions depot, and a terrorist training camp.
The airstrikes came as The Wall Street Journal, citing two Western security officials, reported that 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud had been sought as a target for an airstrike, but could not be located. A Western intelligence official told the paper that efforts to monitor communications between Abaaoud in Syria and jihadists in Europe were complicated by an inability to tell whether Abaaoud or his teenage brother was speaking.
Abaaoud was named by French officials Monday as the key figure suspected of planning and organizing the Paris attacks, which included a series of suicide bombings outside the country’s national stadium and a massacre at a concert hall during a rock-and-roll show by an American band.
French officials who identified Abaaoud as a prime suspect to the Associated Press cited chatter from ISIS figures that Abaaoud had recommended a concert as an ideal target for inflicting maximum casualties, as well as electronic communications between Abaaoud and one of the Paris attackers who blew himself up.
Western officials told the Journal they had no knowledge of the planned attacks on the French capital as they sought Abaaoud, and admitted they did not know whether his death would have been enough to stop the attacks, which were carried out by seven suicide attackers, including a set of three brothers.
A Belgian official told the Journal “it is certain” that Abaaoud knew Salah Abdeslam, who was being hunted by authorities across Europe early Tuesday on suspicion of his having been involved in the Paris terror. The two jihadists grew up not far from each other in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek and spent time in the same prison for petty crimes.
Abaaoud came to public notice in Belgium last year for taking his then 13-year-old brother with him to Syria and appearing in an ISIS propaganda video in which he boasted about his pride in piling the dead bodies of “infidel” enemies into a trailer. At some point, Abaaoud returned to Belgium, only to escape the authorities in January of this year after police foiled a plot to attack officers he had masterminded on behalf of a cell based in the Belgian town of Verviers. In the ensuing gun battle, two of Abaaoud’s alleged accomplices were killed, but Abaaoud somehow escaped.
A Western intelligence official also told the Journal, citing interrogations of former French members of ISIS, that at some point after the Verviers shooting, a core group of French-speaking Belgian radicals began organizing to plan attacks on public places in Europe. The countries targeted including France, Spain, Holland, and the United Kingdom. (Fox News)
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