From French soldier to ISIS spymaster

Michael Weiss writes: The photograph is nearly a decade old, but it is not difficult to imagine that the young man staring inscrutably into the camera, his face bathed in the white light of a flash, now looks much older. The clean-shaven teenager, about 16 or 17, with close-cropped black hair, probably has a long beard now. Gone will be the stylish patterned T-shirt he’s wearing, which looks like it was picked up at a local H&M. Ditto the blingy chain around his neck. If the ravages of time have been accelerated on this young face in the nine years since this portrait was taken then it is because the young man has got the blood of hundreds on his hands, blood that has been spilled in two capital cities of Europe.

The boy in the photograph, which a Western intelligence source shared exclusively with The Daily Beast on the condition that it is not published, is Abdelilah Himich, who U.S. and French intelligence officials have identified as the mysterious Abu Suleyman al-Firansi, the terror operative believed to have been a prime mover of the Paris and Brussels attacks over the last year, and arguably the single most important European in ISIS.

Much that was speculated about Abu Suleyman, pieced together from testimony of active informants inside the ISIS security branch he allegedly heads as well as from defectors from the organization—a game of terrorist telephone—missed some nuances, but otherwise was close to the mark. [Continue reading…]

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