Paris attacks plot was hatched in plain sight

The Wall Street Journal reports: Three days before the attacks that ripped through Paris, Djazira Boulanger handed the keys to her row house, across the street from a kindergarten, to a guest who had booked it over the website Homelidays.com. His name was Brahim Abdeslam.

She didn’t know that Mr. Abdeslam was a central figure in plotting the deadly assault. As Ms. Boulanger tended to her two young children at home, authorities say Mr. Abdeslam and a band of cohorts were down the street preparing weapons for an assault on the Stade de France and Paris’s nightlife district.

“Did I suspect something was wrong? Not at all,” Ms. Boulanger said.

A day after he checked in, Mr. Abdeslam’s younger brother, Salah, pulled up to the roadside hotel Appart’City on the southern outskirts of Paris, according to staff, to claim reservations he made on Booking.com — also under his own name. The rooms were for another set of gunmen in the attacks: those assigned to mow down spectators inside the Bataclan concert hall.

Prosecutors suspect the brothers were preparing the logistics for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged architect of the massacres, to arrive in Paris and swiftly mount one of the deadliest terror attacks in French history. Brahim would later blow himself up during the attacks, while Salah is now the target of an international manhunt.

Mr. Abaaoud was the kind of adversary France had dreaded since the Syrian conflict began drawing European nationals in droves. Mr. Abaaoud — who would die several days after the Paris attacks in a police raid — drew on his experience as a battlefield logistical officer in Syria to launch a guerrilla-style ambush on unarmed civilians in the French capital.

The account emerging from French officials, witnesses and those who interacted with the suspected terrorists shows how the operation hinged on Mr. Abaaoud’s ability to use the tools of everyday modern life to lay the groundwork for the massacre. The ease with which he and his teams moved — all while avoiding detection by France’s security apparatus — suggests the challenges in identifying would-be terrorists and preventing further attacks in the fluid, digital and transnational world of today, especially when they are European citizens. [Continue reading…]

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