PARIS (REUTERS) – France received no information from other countries to signal that Abdelhamid Abaaoud had entered Europe until after 129 people were killed in the French capital, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Thursday.
“No information coming from European countries, where he could have transited before arriving in France, was given to us,” Cazeneuve said of the man suspected of being the mastermind of the attacks.
“It was only on Nov 16, after the Paris attacks, that an intelligence service outside Europe signaled that it had been aware that he had been in Greece,” he said, without specifying when Abaaoud was spotted there and who gave France the intelligence.
Media in Belgium said Abaaoud had been involved in a series of attacks planned in Belgium and foiled by the police last January.
At the time, Belgian police in the town of Verviers killed two men who opened fire on them during one of about a dozen raids against an Islamist group that federal prosecutors said was about to launch “terrorist attacks on a grand scale”.
At the moment of the Verviers events, Abaaoud’s cellphone was located in Greece, RTL said.
In February, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s online magazine Dabiq carried an interview with an Islamist bearing the name of Abaaoud and boasting of having travelled through Europe unnoticed by security forces to organise attacks and procure weapons.
The 28-year-old Belgian militant Abaaoud, who died in the police raid north of Paris on Wednesday, played a key role in the worst attacks on France since World War II and seemed involved in four of six foiled attacks in the country since the spring, Cazeneuve told reporters.
“It is urgent that Europe gets its acts together, organises itself, defends itself against the terrorist threat,” he said, ahead of a meeting on Friday of European Union interior and justice ministers which is to tighten checks at external borders of the passport-free Schengen area.
Abaaoud was involved in a planned attack on churchgoers in the Paris suburb of Villejuif and investigations are continuing into his possible involvement in an attempted attack on a Thalys train between Amsterdam and Paris in August, he said.
French authorities said on Thursday that Abaaoud, who had until then thought to have been in Syria, was among those killed in a police assault north of Paris on Wednesday.
Police had arrested in August a man who told them that Abaaoud had asked him to commit a violent attack in a European country, he added.
A source close to the investigation had told Reuters at the time the target was a concert hall similar to the one attacked in Paris. Friday’s attacks killed people from 17 countries, many of them young people out enjoying themselves at bars, a concert hall and a soccer stadium.