An Islamic State jihadi involved in a gun battle with Belgian police almost a year ago has been named as the mastermind of the terrorist attacks in Paris which killed 129 people.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origins who went on the run after police stormed an IS cell last January amid fears of a plot to assassinate Belgian police officers, was identified as French president François Hollande vowed to “destroy” IS and proclaimed that his country was “at war”. Abaaoud’s whereabouts are unknown but he could be in Syria. In a rare address at the Palace of Versailles, Mr Hollande said that he wanted to meet United States and Russian leaders Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin to discuss pooling their efforts against IS.
Meanwhile, David Cameron revealed plans to recruit nearly 2,000 new spies and double spending on security at airports across the UK, while Home Secretary Theresa May said security will be “intensified” at events in major cities and at UK borders.
Officials said Abaaoud was the “presumed” ringleader of the series of co-ordinated attacks on the French capital, which included shootings in a restaurant, cafe and concert hall, as well as an attempt to detonate a bomb in a sports stadium where Mr Hollande was among the spectators.
He has also been linked to previous foiled attacks, including the attempted strike on a high-speed train in August which was stopped when passengers overpowered a gunman.
A huge security operation was mounted across France yesterday, with 104 people placed under house arrest, 168 locations raided and a string of weapons seized including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and rocket launchers.
Mr Hollande said France’s state of emergency – which extends some police powers of search and arrest and limits public gatherings, among other changes – could be extended to three months. “France is at war,” he said. “The acts committed on Friday evening in Paris and near the national stadium are acts of war. It is an aggression against our country, against its values, against its youth, against its way of life. Every single day they massacre and oppress people. That’s the reason why we need to destroy Isis.
He added: “Jihadist terrorism threatens the whole world and not just France.”
At least 129 people were killed and 352 injured in the attacks on Friday night.
A Briton, Nick Alexander, was killed at the Bataclan concert hall, while it emerged yesterday that Scot Hamish “Callum” MacDonald, of Fort William, remains in an induced coma.
Meanwhile, questions have been growing about how the terrorists evaded detection, with claims that the perpetrators of the attacks could have communicated via messages sent through games consoles.
It has been reported that one of the suicide bombers involved in the Bataclan music hall assault had featured in a previous terrorism investigation, but slipped through the net.
Officials identified the assailant as Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old Frenchman, who had been charged in a terrorism imquiry in 2012. He was placed under judicial supervision but dropped off the radar – prompting authorities to issue an international arrest warrant.
Claims also emerged that Turkish authorities flagged up one of the attackers – Omar Ismail Mostefai – to their French counterparts last year, but received no response until after last Friday’s events.
Security services were already under pressure after missing an opportunity to detain Salah Abdeslam, 26, hours after the carnage in Paris.
He is at the centre of an international manhunt after he rented a car used to carry gunmen to the Bataclan concert venue.
French border police had stopped him on Saturday but unwittingly allowed Abdeslam to travel on to Belgium.
One of Abdeslam’s brothers, Brahim, blew himself up outside a Paris restaurant, also killing one civilian.
His other brother, Mohamed, was detained by Belgian police but released without charge.
His lawyer Nathalie Gallant said that, unlike his two brothers, Mohamed Abdeslam “didn’t make the same life choice”.
Police yesterday mounted a tense, hours-long stand-off outside the suspected hideout of Abdeslam, but found the flat, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, empty.
There were also fresh revelations from Germany, with reports that an investigation has been launched into claims that an Algerian man warned fellow migrants at a refugee shelter of an imminent attack in Paris.
A spokesman for prosecutors in Arnsberg said that two Syrian men contacted police at the weekend, claiming that the man had told them that Paris would be subjected to “fear and terror”.
Overnight raids around France on Sunday night saw a number of individuals detained and dozens of weapons seized.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said: “This is just the beginning. These actions will continue. The reply of the republic will be solid and total. Those who want to hurt the republic, they will be attacked, they will be dealt with.”