France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday some of the Paris attackers, including the mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, exploited the Syrian refugee crisis to slip into the country unnoticed.
Abaaoud, the ringleader behind last Friday’s bombings and shootings in the French capital that killed 129 people, was able to get into Europe undeterred, according to French authorities. The 28-year-old had also been linked to several plots around France including a thwarted attack by a gunman on a high-speed train in August.
French officials confirmed Thursday Abaaoud was killed in an anti-terror raid Wednesday in a suburb north of Paris. He was identified from skin samples after the Saint-Denis apartment raid.
Abaaoud had claimed he successfully moved back and forth from Europe to Syria coordinating terror attacks, and narrowly escaped a January police raid in the Belgian city of Verviers. “Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave… despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies,” he told the ISIS magazine Dabiq.
Two counterterrorism officials told Fox News on Thursday that Abaaoud is comparable to Mohammed Atta – the “tactical guy” who identified and pulled together the operatives.
Police say they launched Wednesday’s operation after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and tipoffs suggesting that Abaaoud was holed up in the apartment. Investigators said it was still unclear how he died. Eight other people were arrested.
French authorities did not know he was in Europe before the massacre, France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday. He demanded Europe do everything in its power to “vanquish terrorism.”
Valls said some of the Paris attackers had taken advantage of the massive influx of migrants into Europe fleeing war in the Middle East.
“These individuals took advantage of the refugee crisis … of the chaos, perhaps, for some of them to slip in” to France, he told French TV. “Others were in Belgium already. And others, I must remind you, were in France.”
Valls also warned that the passport-free Schengen zone is a risk of Europe fails to “take responsibility” over border controls, according to Sky News. European Union ministers are expected to meet in Brussels where they are expected to tighten border security in each of the 26-member nations.
Hasna Aitboulahcen, described as Abaaoud’s cousin, was also killed in the anti-terror raid Wednesday when she activated a suicide belt and blew herself up.
Police now turn their attention to two other suspects who are believed to have participated in the attacks. Police have identified one of them as Salah Abdeslam, who grew up in the same Belgian district as Abaaoud, the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek.
There was no indication Abdeslam escaped to neighboring Spain or tried to do so, Spanish Interior Miniister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said. He told Antena 3 television that security officials from several countries were called together in Paris to discuss the possibility that Abdeslam might try to cross into a country bordering France.
Spanish police say French authorities sent a bulletin to officers across Europe asking them to watch out for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Abdeslam.
Abaaoud’s death may provide some relief not only for Europeans, but also for his own family. “We are praying that Abdelhamid really is dead,” his sister, Yasmina, said last year, The New York Times reported. At the time, there was word he died fighting for ISIS, but it eventually emerged that he escaped Syria for Europe.
His own father, Omar, said the jihadi “dishonored” his family, the Times added.