Police handout of the man behind the attacks, the Belgian Oussama Atar

One Belgian man was responsible for the planning of a series of terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015 and 2016, including the Paris attacks of November 2015 and the two attacks at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro on 22 March 2016, French investigators have concluded.

According to the 561-page indictment drawn up by police investigating the Paris attacks at the Stade de France and Bataclan theatre in November 2015 in which a total of 130 people were killed, one man, the Belgian known as Oussama Atar, alias Abu Ahmed, was responsible for planning that attack, as well as a failed attack in Verviers in January 2015, the foiled attack on a Thalys train in August 2015, and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels. Belgian police helped complete the French authorities’ investigation.

De Standaard has seen the indictment, and reports that the first returning Syria fighter to return to Belgium was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who prepared a series of safe houses for those who were to follow him later, including some who were directly responsible for the two Brussels attacks, and who helped prepare the Paris attacks.

At the head of the organisation of the attacks in Europe, working from Syria, was Atar, a close associate of Abou Mohamed Al-Adnani, then the deputy leader of IS, and a confidant of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed recently by US troops. Atar had previously been responsible of planning IS activities in the Middle East, and was later given authority to work on attacks in Europe.

As well as those attacks we know about, including the failed ones, investigators now say that at attack had been planned at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on 13 November 2015 – the same day as the Paris attacks. For an unknown reason, the Schiphol attack never went ahead.

Meanwhile the seeds for the Brussels attacks had been sown back in 2014, in Syria, when Atar met with his cousin Khalid El Bakraoui, and the decision was taken to set up an IS cell in Belgium. That would turn out to be in Molenbeek in Brussels. El Bakraoui, meanwhile, would go on to explode a bomb on the Brussels metro at Maalbeek station on the morning of 22 March 2016, one hour after confederates had attacked the departures hall at Brussels Airport.

Reading from the indictment, De Standaard now reports that Atar has since been killed in Syria. The same fate was reserved for Omar Darif, a Syrian native, who investigators have now named as the bomb-maker for the Paris attacks, and who also taught Najim Laachraoui how to make the bombs used in Brussels.

The trial of those involved in the Paris attacks who are still alive is expected to take place in 2021, involving the only surviving terrorist involved, Salah Abdeslam, the Brussels-born French national arrested in Forest commune four days before the Brussels attacks and later sentenced here to 20 years for attempted murder during a shoot-out with police as they arrested him. If convicted in Paris, he can expect to receive a life sentence.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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