In Brief

US warns of Europe Christmas terror

Caution urged at festivals and markets as France arrests seven in anti-terror raids in Strasbourg and Marseilles

Paris attacks: who was suicide bomber Hasna Aitboulahcen?

20 November

Details have begun to emerge about the female suicide bomber who blew herself up during a police raid in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Hasna Aitboulahcen, a French national, is believed to be the cousin of Islamic State jihadi Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of last week's attacks who also died in the siege. 

The pair were hiding in a safe house in the suburbs of Saint Denis with several other suspects when hundreds of heavily armed officers stormed the building.

A recording of the siege reveals an exchange between Aitboulahcen and police. Amid heavy gunfire, an officer asks: "Where is your boyfriend?" She shouts back: "He's not my boyfriend!" 

Aitboulahcen is then reported to have shouted "help me, help me" out of the window before detonating her explosives vest. "Perhaps to lure the police in," the Daily Telegraph speculates.

Who was she?

Aitboulahcen was born in Clichy-la-Garenne on the outskirts of Paris in 1989, to parents who had recently arrived from Morocco, The Guardian reports. Her parents split up soon after, and she spent her childhood living with her mother and with a foster family.

The 26-year old has been described by friends and neighbours as bubbly and extrovert – but also "a bit clueless " and vulnerable.

"She didn't look like a suicide bomber and she drank alcohol," a neighbour told the local newspaper Le Republicain Lorrain. "We saw her quite often and we called her the cowgirl because she always wore a large hat."

Her brother, Youssouf, told the Daily Mail she had shown no interest in religion and only begun wearing the Niqab a month ago. "I never saw her open the Koran. She was permanently on her phone, looking at Facebook or WhatsApp," he said.  

Aitboulahcen began openly supporting Islamic State on social media, posting images of herself on Facebook with the caption: "I'll soon be going to Syria, God willing, soon leaving for Turkey."

After failing to travel to Syria to join IS, she "offered her services to commit terrorist attacks in France", according to French police sources.

Aitboulahcen was already under surveillance before the Paris attacks, as part of a separate investigation into drug trafficking in the area. After the killings and the identification of Abaaoud, further surveillance was authorised. 

"It was information gleaned from this surveillance that led police investigating the attacks to the apartment in Saint Denis," says The Guardian.

Paris attacks: Abdelhamid Abaaoud confirmed dead 

20 November

The man suspected of orchestrating the terrorist attacks in Paris died during yesterday's dawn raid of a flat in Saint Denis, it has been confirmed. 

"Abdel Hamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified, after comparing fingerprints, as having been killed during the raid," the Paris prosecutor said in a statement.

Police sources have also identified the woman who detonated an explosive belt during the scene as Abaaoud's cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen. However, the seven people who were arrested during the siege have not yet been named.

Identification of the remains took longer than expected because the entire third floor of the building collapsed, deputy commander Georges Salinas said, according to The Guardian.

The 27-year old Islamic State militant became the most wanted man in Europe after last week's attacks on the French capital, which left 129 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Police had initially believed that Abaaoud was in Syria, but intelligence, including surveillance footage and phone intercepts, led them to search for him the suburbs of Paris.

"French intelligence services have been under a lot of criticism for various failures in the run-up to and after Friday's attacks," says the BBC's Ben Brown. "But they now appear to have got their man."

Meanwhile, French PM Manuel Valls has warned that France could face chemical or biological attack from IS and other terror groups, as parliament voted to extend the state of emergency for three more months and grant police more powers. 

The measures mean anyone deemed to be a public threat can be placed under house arrest and police will be allowed to conduct searches at any time and without the approval of a judge if the public is thought to be in danger.

Paris attacks: was Abdelhamid Abaaoud killed in police raid?

19 November

The fate of the man suspected of masterminding the terrorist attacks in Paris is still unknown, as French police work to establish whether Abdelhamid Abaaoud was in the flat they raided yesterday.

Two people were killed and seven arrested when armed officers stormed an apartment in Saint Denis in the early hours of yesterday morning in search of Abaaoud and other suspects.  

The remains of the two suspects – one woman and one man – have yet to be identified. Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the leader of one of the special forces units, said the man's corpse was "mutilated, probably from grenades and he wasn't recognisable". DNA tests are now being conducted.

But senior European officials have told the Washington Post that they have received confirmation from French authorities that Abaaoud was indeed killed in the raid.

Police believe the 27-year old Belgian was responsible for orchestrating last week's attacks, which killed 129 people and injured hundreds more. He was previously thought to have been in Syria.

Meanwhile, men praising Islamic State stabbed a Jewish teacher in Marseille. Three attackers, one of them wearing an IS T-shirt, approached the man on the street.

"They insulted, threatened and then stabbed their victim in the arm and leg. They were interrupted and fled," prosecutors told Sky News. The victim's injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

The latest attack comes as France considers extending a state of emergency for three months, which would see troops remain on the streets "alongside a battery of more subtle measures," says the BBC's Kevin Connolly.

The government has already announced that demonstrations planned to coincide with this month's international climate talks will not be allowed to take place for security reasons.

"The French government has not hesitated to argue that in times of crisis like this the balance between liberty and public safety must be shifted."

Paris attacks: two people killed and five arrested in police raid 

18 November

At least two people have been killed in a major police operation in the outskirts of Paris following last week's terrorist attacks.

It is believed that the target of the raids was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of the attacks which killed 129 people and injured hundreds more on Friday.

Salah Abdeslam, who went on the run after the mass killings, and another suspect thought to be a ninth attacker were also allegedly targeted, The Guardian reports.

Paris prosecutors say seven people are in police custody. However, the identities of the dead and those arrested have not yet been confirmed. No civilian casualties have been reported.

If it is confirmed that Abaaoud was inside the flat, it will come as a "great surprise", says the BBC. "Because as far as all of the intelligence that we were getting suggested that he was in Syria."

Armed police stormed a flat near Rue de La Republique in the northern suburb of Saint Denis, the same district as the national football stadium that was targeted by suicide bombers last week.

The raid began at 4.20am local time and residents reported hearing heavy automatic gunfire and expositions as hundreds of heavily armed police officers arrived at the scene. 

A female suspect is believed to have detonated a suicide vest as officers stormed the apartment, while the others barricaded themselves inside and exchanged fire with police. 

Five officers are believed to have been wounded in the raid, though their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening. A police dog is reported to have died in the initial gunfire. 

French troops are also at the scene and residents have been told to stay indoors. Deputy mayor Stephane Peu sought to calm fears, telling locals "it is not a new attack but a police intervention".

"Troops [are] on the streets of Paris and that underlines what President Hollande said. This is now a country at war," the BBC's Ben Brown reports. "These are not, in any way, normal times in France."  

Who attacked Paris? Key suspect named as Abdelhamid Abaaoud

17 November

Details have begun to emerge about the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 129 dead and hundreds more seriously injured.

Police believe Islamic State jihadi Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, orchestrated last week's deadly attacks. He remains at large and is believed to be in Syria.

The 27-year-old is from Molenbeek, an impoverished district in Brussels with links to Islamic extremism, the BBC reports. Police have carried out a series of raids there following the Paris attacks, arresting and charging two people with terrorism offences. 

Abaaoud has long been known to the authorities. In 2010, he was jailed in Belgium for armed robbery alongside Salah Abdeslam, one of the other terrorist suspects. 

Authorities believe Abaaoud travelled to Syria to join IS in 2013, returning home to Belgium later that year via Greece. In Syria, he appeared in a number of online propaganda videos, including footage showing him laughing and smiling while driving a pick-up truck filled with corpses.

"For a man at the centre of a global manhunt, he was already something of a celebrity," The Guardian notes. "On social media, he is referred to by his nom de guerre, Abu Umar al-Belgiki, combining a resonant Sunni first name with his country of origin."

Abaaoud is thought to have fled Brussels after a terrorist cell was broken up in January of this year. In July, he was tried in absentia in a Belgian court, charged with running one of Belgium's largest jihadist recruitment networks. He was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Police have linked him to several terrorist plots this year, including the August attack on a Paris-bound train that was thwarted by passengers and another at a church in the suburbs of Paris in April.

Boasting of how he plotted attacks without being detected, Abaaoud told the IS magazine Dabiq: "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!"

Who are the other suspected attackers?

  • Salah Abdeslam: The 26-year-old Belgium-based French national is thought to have rented the car used in the attack on the Bataclan theatre. He remains at large. 
  • Brahim Abdeslam: Salah's 31-year-old brother rented a car used in the attack on the Boulevard Voltaire. He died after setting off his suicide belt outside a café.
  • Omar Ismail Mostefai: The 29-year-old French national died at the Bataclan.
  • Samy Amimour: The 28-year-old French national blew himself up at the Bataclan.
  • Bilal Hadfi: The 20-year-old attacker detonated his suicide vest outside the Stade de France
  • Ahmad al-Mohammad: The second bomber outside the footballs stadium was carrying a passport in the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, a man who entered Europe through the Greek island of Leros. However, authorities believe the document to be fake. 

Paris attacks: mastermind suspect named as 23 arrested

16 November

French officials have alleged that Belgian extremist Abdelhamid Abaaoud was the mastermind behind Friday's massacre in Paris. The 27-year-old is said to be one of Islamic State's most active operatives and is believed to be in Syria.

He is apparently the investigators' best bet as the main organiser of the attacks, which were carried out by a sleeper cell based in Belgium and left at least 129 people dead.

Abaaoud is suspected of involvement in a "narrowly averted attack" on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Brussels in August, reports The Guardian.

The news comes after a total of 23 people were arrested in more than 150 raids across France. According to the BBC, more than 100 people have also been placed under house arrest.

Salah Abdeslam, a Brussels-born suspect, is still on the run. His brother Brahim Abdeslam was killed during the attacks, while his other brother, Mohammed Abdeslam, was arrested and then released without charge.

French prime minister Manuel Valls has claimed the attacks were organised from Syria and warned that more terror attacks are being planned in France and other European countries.

A new propaganda video has emerged, in which an Islamic State fighter warns of an attack on Washington and says that any country taking part in the air strike campaign in Syria would be targeted in a similar manner. However, the video's authenticity is yet to be verified.

Meanwhile, the hacker collective Anonymous has threatened to launched its "biggest operation ever" against Islamic State following the massacre.

In a video posted online, a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask issued a message to the militants: "Expect many cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared."

Speaking in French, the man said the attacks "cannot remain unpunished" and added: "We don't forgive and we don't forget."

The group, which comprises coders and activists from around the world, launched an anti-Islamic State campaign after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January.

According to Foreign Policy, they have since taken down 149 of the militants' websites and flagged up 101,000 Twitter accounts and 5,900 propaganda videos.

Paris attacks: rocket launcher found as key suspect is named

16 November

French police have named Salah Abdeslam as a key suspect in Friday's attacks on Paris. The Brussels-born 26-year-old is wanted on suspicion of hiring a black Volkswagen Polo used in the attack that left 129 dead, reports the BBC.

It emerged on Sunday that Abdeslam, one of three brothers allegedly linked to Friday's attacks, had been stopped by police in the hours after the massacre, but then released.

According to reports, Abdeslam and two others were pulled over as they drove near the Belgian border following the attacks. Officers checked his ID then let him go.

His older brother is said to have blown himself up outside a bar on Friday, while a third brother was reportedly arrested in Brussels on his return from Paris. The three men are among seven suspected attackers to be identified so far.

As a massive manhunt continues for surviving members and accomplices of the group that carried out the assaults, a rocket launcher was found in one of 150 raids across the country.

Prime minister Manuel Valls confirmed that the weapon was found in Lyon, where five people were arrested. He added that more attacks are being planned in France and across Europe.

The Daily Telegraph says heavily-armed tactical units have carried out co-ordinated operations from Calais to Toulouse, making dozens of arrests in areas linked with jihadists.

The raids are being conducted under emergency powers that have been put in place by French president Francois Hollande after the massacre.

France will hold a two-minute silence at midday on Monday (11am UK time) which is expected to be observed around the world. In Westminster, all Whitehall government departments have lowered their Union flags to half-mast.

Paris attacks: gunman identified as police make arrests

15 November

Police have named Omar Ismail Mostefai as one of the men who ranged through the streets of Paris on Friday night, killing 129 people and wounding more than 350. After firing indescriminately on cafes, bars and music venues, the attackers detonated suicide bombs.

Mostefai was identified by a severed finger found at the Bataclan concert hall, the scene of the worst carnage. He "had a history of petty crime but was never jailed", the BBC reports. "The security services deemed him to have been radicalised in 2010 but he was never implicated in a counter-terrorism investigation."

His brother has been arrested after turning himself in at a police station. Police have made several other arrests, and recovered a black Seat they believe was used during the attack.

A passport found on one of the gunman appeared to be that of Syrian refugee who registered in Greece during the summer and followed the migrant route through Europe. "Intelligence chiefs fear that more terrorists could have infiltrated western Europe using the same route," The Sunday Times reports.

However, there are some doubts about the authenticity of the passport: a US intelligence officer has told CBS News that the document was fake.

How the Paris attacks unfolded

The series of attacks began with two explosions outside the Stade de France, where the French football team was playing Germany. The stadium was evacuated as gunmen fired on bars and cafes in the surrounding area.

Eighteen people died in a gun attack on La Belle Equipe, a cafe on the Rue do Charonne, and 14 more were killed at Le Carillon, a bar on Rue Alibert, and a neighbouring Cambodian restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge.

The majority of killings, at least 87, took place at the Bataclan concert hall, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal were playing.

"The attackers first sprayed cafes outside the concert hall with machine gunfire, then went inside and opened fire on the panicked audience," The Guardian reports.

The gunmen took dozens hostages inside the venue, and had begun to kill them one by one when security forces acted to end the siege. "As police closed in, three of them detonated suicide vests, killing themselves and setting off explosions," the paper says.

Yesterday Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and several reports suggest that gunmen shouted "this is for Syria" as they opened fire.


The response

Paris's museums, markets, universities, libraries and swimming pools will be closed all weekend, and France has tightened its borders. Eurostar services are operating normally and airports are open, although some airlines have delayed flights to Paris. Yesterday, Gatwick's north terminal was closed for six hours after a French traveller was seen with an air rifle and a knife.

Francois Hollande, the French president, was at the Stade de France when the attacks began. He said the country would wage a "pitiless war" against those who planned the attacks. "When terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities," he said, "they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow."

Britain's Cobra emergency committee met yesterday to discuss whether security should be tightened in the UK. Last year police in London conducted an exercise testing their response to an attack involving gunmen and bombers at multiple sites across the city.

"Last night exposed the difficulty of keeping a European capital safe," says the BBC's Lucy Williamson. "It was not just attacks on soft targets – bars, concert halls, night clubs – but on multiple soft targets at the same time."


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