The Washington Post reports: All of Europe was looking for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the planner of the Paris attacks, when two women approached his roadside hiding place, guided by the voice of someone secretly watching from a distance and giving directions by phone.
“Go forward. Walk. Stop,” the voice said. “He can see you. He’s coming.”
It was 9:30 p.m., two days after the bombings and shootings in November that left 130 people dead. France had closed its borders and launched a massive manhunt. But Abaaoud emerged from behind a bush and strolled toward the women as if there were nothing unusual about this rendezvous.
One of the women, Abaaoud’s cousin, jumped into his arms, saying, “Hamid, you’re alive!”
But her companion, who had come without knowing who they were to meet, felt a shudder of recognition. “I’d seen him on TV,” she later told police, referring to videos from Syria that showed Abaaoud dragging dead bodies behind a truck.
The meeting, which was described by the woman in an interview and confirmed in French investigative files obtained by The Washington Post, set in motion a three-day sequence that culminated in a raid on an apartment in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. Abaaoud, 28, was killed in that operation by authorities who subsequently learned that he was plotting additional attacks.
His plans were derailed largely because of his decision to involve two women whose impulses when faced with the choice of trying to help him or stop him were immediately at odds.
His cousin, a troubled 26-year-old woman named Hasna Aitboulahcen, helped Abaaoud elude authorities for days and died with him in the Saint-Denis apartment, where one of the cornered militants detonated a suicide bomb.
The other woman, who had served as a surrogate mother to Aitboulahcen for several years, secretly called and met with police, providing information that probably helped authorities stave off another wave of attacks.
The relationship between the two women in many ways reflects broader tensions in Muslim communities across Europe over interpretations of their religion, degrees of loyalty to their countries and the insidious appeal of the Islamic State.
In a Nov. 18 news conference, François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said that a key witness helped identify Abaaoud on French territory and that investigators “were led to this apartment” by that crucial source. French police declined to elaborate or comment further on the case.
But until now, the public has been unaware that the critical tip in the hunt for Abaaoud came from a Muslim — one of millions who now face a backlash in Europe fueled by anger over the attacks in Paris and Brussels, as well as fear and resentment of a rising tide of refugees.
“It’s important the world knows that I am Muslim myself,” the woman said, citing that as a reason for being willing to speak to The Post. “It’s important to me that people know what Abaaoud and the others did is not what Islam is teaching.” [Continue reading…]