It takes three hours to drive from Sint-Jans-Molenbeek in Brussels to Place de la République, a historic square in Paris. On Friday, November 13, three cars did just that. They were loaded with machine guns, ammunition, suicide vests, and three teams of trained guerillas from the Islamic State (also called ISIS). By midnight, the men from Molenbeek had killed 132 people and injured 350, setting a terrible new record for terrorist attacks perpetuated by European jihadists against their homeland.
Just days later, on Sunday night, French President François Hollande declared, “We are at war.” French fighter jets soon carried out bombing sorties over Raqqa, ISIS’ capital city, which is thousands of miles away from where the terrorists originated. So just who is France at war with?
BACK TO BRUSSELS
On Monday morning, French officials released the name of the man they have identified as the mastermind of Friday’s attacks: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old man born in the Molenbeek district in Brussels. Abaaoud is straight from central casting. He once posed in an ISIS propaganda video as the driver of a truck filled with mutilated bodies. He was also featured in an issue of Dabiq, ISIS’ glossy e-magazine, bragging about how he escaped a manhunt across Europe in January 2015 to find sanctuary in the caliphate. That month, ten days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Belgian police had raided a cell of jihadists holed up in a house in Verviers, in easternBelgium. Apparently, the cell, which investigators say was linked to ISIS, had plans to kidnap and execute members of the Belgian police. Two members of the group died in a shootout with the police, and nine were later arrested in Molenbeek. But the leader—Abaaoud—got away. In July 2015, he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court.
Clearly, that didn’t deter him from planning a strike on Paris. Among last week’s attackers were three brothers from Molenbeek who were implicated in Belgian-registered car that was found abandoned in the suburb of Montreuil, loaded with a cache machine guns and spent ammunition clips. The car was probably used in the drive-by shootings that killed 35 people in restaurants lining the Canal Saint-Matin near the Place de la République. A third brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, was arrested late Saturday in a sweep in Molenbeek but was later released.
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