Abdelhamid Abaaoud, whose mutilated body was procured after St-Denis police raid, travelled into and through the EU from Syria on at least two occasions in past 12 months
The Syria-based Belgian jihadi suspected of planning the bloody assaults that killed 129 people in Paris died a day ago in a hail of police bullets, French officials corroborated on Thursday, raising serious questions about how one of Europes most wanted men could travel freely around the continent.
The Paris attorneys office said Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an Islamic State extremist believed by French intelligence services to have been in Syria, was killed on Wednesday in the ferocious firefight at a crumbling terrorist hideout north of Paris.
Confirmation that a top terrorist suspect had travelled into and through the EU from Syria on at least two occasions in the past 12 months, passing checks in countries including Belgium and Germany without alarms being triggered, has put European leaders under intense pressure to get a grip on Europes external and internal borders.
The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said Abaaoud had played a decisive role in the Paris attacks and was suspected of involvement in four of the six terror plots that French intelligence services had foiled this year.
But, Cazeneuve pointed out, he was the subject of both a European and an international arrest warrant and no EU intelligence service had alerted France that he was on European soil.
The interior minister said information from a non-European agency that the jihadi may recently have been in Greece merely reached France on 16 November, three days after the attacks.
The mutilated body of the 28 -year-old, linked with half a dozen terrorist plots across Europe, was found in the rubble of the badly damaged apartment in St-Denis and identified from skin samples.
As the head of Europol, the EU police agency, exposed much higher figures for suspected and potential foreign fighters on its watchlists, EU home minister, gratifying on Friday at Frances request, are set to unveil a battery of principally electronic measures aimed at combatting terror and improving border controls.
Many have been mooted before, particularly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January, but not enforced. But because of Paris, its the best chance to push them through because that will vanish in a few weeks, a senior EU diplomat admitted.
Europe now had to move fast and securely, Cazeneuve said, calling on his fellow pastors to agree on a Europe-wide passenger information register, improved controls along Europes external perimeters, and better coordination against arms-trafficking.
France has been calling for these measures for more than 18 months, and some progress has been constructed, Cazeneuve said. But it is not fast enough, and it does not go far enough … Everyone must understand Europe has to organise, recover, defend itself against the terrorist threat.
Revealing figures vastly exceeding those previously disclosed, Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, told the European parliaments civil liberties committee that the agencys database contained their lists of 28,000 people in the EU who needed to be monitored for possible connections to terrorism.
The figures included the corroborated names of 2,000 foreign fighters who had been to Syria from EU countries. Wainwright reckoned the real figure was 5,000. A further 8,000 names referred to supporters and sympathisers.
The Paris attacks represented a quantum leap in the jihadi threat to Europe, Wainwright said: I consider this as “the worlds largest” terrorist menace facing Europe for 10 years. Europe has experienced a Mumbai-style terrorist attack, with indiscriminate shootings and bombings over a wide area. Farther assaults are likely.
The EU home minister are likely to announce the establishment of a new European counter-terrorism centre from January. The Warsaw-based border bureau Frontex is also to be given new counter-terrorism powers, a seven-page draft statement obtained by the Guardian says.
National governments have been promising for months to beef up fund, resources, equipment and staffing for Frontex to cope better with the immigration crisis. They has systematically failed to deliver on their pledges.
The interior ministers draft statement says that member states undertake to implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement.
This entails EU citizens leaving or entering the Schengen free travelling region, which encompasses 26 countries, may have their identities checked against Schengen databases and computer systems for links to terrorism or organised crime. This does not happen at present since Schengen rules stipulate that EU citizens should be checked merely perfunctorily.
Abaaoud, a aborigine of the Molenbeek borough of Brussels, carried a Belgian passport. Its not enough to say we need new border controls for non-EU citizens, said a senior envoy in Brussels. We need the will and the capability to do this for everyone. Just like the Americans.
The attacks on Paris shops, restaurants, a concert hall and the Stade de France scarcely two kilometres from the scene of Wednesdays shootout were carried out by a Belgium-based cell in close linked with Isis in Syria.
At least two people, including a woman detected by police as Abaaouds cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, who blew herself up by detonating an explosive vest, and a man hit by gunshots, died in the St-Denis assault.
Identification took longer than expected because of the condition of the bodies parts of Aitboulahcens spine reportedly landed on a police car and the dangerous nation of the partly collapsed building, the entire third floor of which caved in during the seven-hour siege.
Eight people were also arrested during the raid, launched after a tip-off on Monday followed by extensive phone taps and surveillance, which led police to suspect Abaaoud was in the building.
Abaaoud was jailed in 2010 for armed robbery and reportedly joined Isis in 2013. He had now been boasted of his ability to slip-up at will between Syria and Europe.
He was suspected of organising a terror cell in Verviers, Belgium, which was broken up in a shootout with police in January, and involvement in a foiled attack in August on a Thalys train. A notorious 2014 Isis propaganda video depicted him dragging the mutilated bodies of several of the terror groups foes behind a pickup truck.
Prosecutors have identified five of the 7 attackers who died in Paris: four Frenchmen and a foreigner who was fingerprinted in Greece last month, claimed asylum in Serbia, and was carrying a Syrian passport, maybe fake. All had spent time in Syria.
Police are still hunting one of the supposed gunmen, 26 -year-old Salah Abdeslam, whose friend Brahim blew himself up in the attacks, and the other unidentified human they believe was directly involved.
Two suspected accomplice who were reportedly drove Salah Abdeslam back from Paris to the Brussels suburbium of Molenbeek, a longstanding hotbed of Islamic extremism, after the attacks, are being questioned by police in Belgium.
As the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, announced a package of anti-terror measures on Thursday and pledged 400 m( APS2 81 m) in extra fund, police constructed nine apprehends in raids in the Brussels region linked to Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up at the Stade de France.
Six days into a national country of emergency, the French parliament voted to extend it to February. Further security measures are being discussed, including placing under house arrest anyone considered a public menace; barring suspects from communicating with one another; and allowing police to carry out searches at any time without the prior approval of a judge.
The French president, FranASSois Hollande, will satisfy his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and the US president, Barack Obama, next week in a bid to build a global coalition to destroy the jihadis. French and Russian airplanes have pounded targets in Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in northern Syria, since the weekend.
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