The Daily Beast reports: even as initial reports based on unofficial police sources claimed they were closing in on [Abdelhamid] Abaaoud in Saint-Denis, questions are being raised in intelligence circles about whether he is really so important to the ISIS terror networks as he’s sometimes been portrayed. [Abaaoud’ death has now been confirmed by French authorities.]
Probably not, says Wassim Nasr, the well-sourced terrorism analyst at the French international network France 24. Nasr, in his commentary, has carefully demoted Abaaoud from “mastermind” to “operational commander.” And that sentiment is shared by current and former U.S. intelligence officials.
Abaaoud clearly seems to have had personal connections to important ISIS figures as well as to men who acted as foot soldiers in Europe, including one who attacked a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four.
But Abaaoud is now seen as a potentially important logistics coordinator or maybe even a top field operative, while the multiple, coordinated attacks in Paris bear the marks of an operation that was planned and ordered by men higher in the ISIS hierarchy.
“To call him a mastermind seems like saying a major or a lieutenant colonel was the mastermind of some battle plan,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official opined. “He seems more like the lead guy for the project, who more often than not is getting signoff from headquarters.”
One U.S. official, who asked not to be identified when discussing a sensitive ongoing investigation, said it would be misleading to suggest that Abaaoud thought up and then oversaw the attacks himself, because the operation was too sophisticated for one person.
For starters, the attackers were wearing suicide vests, which aren’t easy to make, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA intelligence officer and counterterrorism expert, told The Daily Beast.
“It’s also not easy to transport them from Syria to Paris,” Riedel said. “It’s more likely there is a bomb maker somewhere near Paris with some kind of workshop. It’s unlikely [ISIS] would use a bomb maker for a suicide mission, so he is probably still alive and very busy.” [Continue reading…]