ISIS leaders 'ordered Brussels and Paris attacks'

BRUSSELS • The militant cell that launched deadly attacks on Paris and Brussels received its orders from "very high" in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group command, according to Belgium's federal prosecutor.

"We know that the orders came from the Islamic State zone... We know that it went very high in the command," Mr Frederic Van Leeuw said on Wednesday.

He could not say exactly who gave the orders or whether they sent them from a base in Syria or Iraq, the territory run by ISIS leader and self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He said the command moved around to dodge US-backed strikes. "Baghdadi was for a while in Mosul (Iraq), sometimes in Raqqa (Syria)," he added.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks across Paris on Nov 13 last year that killed 130 people as well as for the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station on March 22 that killed 32 people.

Mr Van Leeuw said the attacks were carried out by the same Franco-Belgian cell in which "the logisticians in one case became the operational ones in the following case".

With the authorities still looking for suspects, he added: "The investigation is far from having ended, as much at the Belgian as at the French level."

French sources said on Tuesday that French investigators had identified Oussama Atar, a Moroccan- Belgian jihadist based in Syria, as a "coordinator" of the attacks.

Mr Van Leeuw said Atar's suspected role "is one of the working theories among others. There are a whole series of checks to be done".

Atar, believed to go by the pseudonym "Abou Ahmad" in Syria, has been on the radar of European security forces for more than a decade.

He is suspected of having sent two suicide bombers to the national stadium in Paris as well as another pair of potential assailants, who were delayed on their way to Paris and arrested in Austria last December.

After being arrested in Iraq in 2004 following the US-led invasion of the country, Atar spent time in various jails. After being released, in 2012 he returned to Belgium before apparently making his way back to the Middle East, but intelligence services lost track of him months ago.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'ISIS leaders 'ordered Brussels and Paris attacks''. Print Edition | Subscribe