November 17, 2015—Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud was born in Brussels to a Moroccan immigrant family 28 years ago. The young jihadi fighter wasn’t widely known until French officials claimed he was the mastermind of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and injured hundreds of others. His name was officially tied to the attacks on Monday, November 16th.
Abu Oud was raised in the Molenbeek neighborhood, known as a harsh part of town, but went on to attend the prestigious Saint-Pierre d’Uccle school.
According to the New York Times, Abu Oud had mentioned his plans on attacking a “concert hall” to a French citizen who had returned from Syria earlier. French officials have also connected Abu Oud to Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, one of the suicide bombers involved in the Bataclan concert hall attacks.
Earlier this year, the young Abu Oud demonstrated his pride in terrorizing “the crusaders waging war against the Muslims.”
In March of 2014, journalist Etienne Huver obtained footage of Abu Oud’s cell phones from sources inside of a Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border. In Huver’s report for the Belgian news channel RTBF, Abu Oud is shown driving a car dragging the bodies of Free Syria Army fighters.
According to CNN, Aba Oud joined ISIS in 2014 while the Guardian claims he may have joined in 2013. After joining the Islamic State effort, the fighter posted several videos of his participation in the front line battles. One of the videos shows Aba Oud saying that “It ‘s not fun seeing blood spilled, but it gives me pleasure from time to time to see blood of the disbelievers run because we grew up watching the blood of Muslims being spilled in the whole world on TV.”
He may have not joined alone, since he was one of hundreds of other young Belgian Muslims who fled to Syria seeking to fight Bashar al-Assad. According to the Guardian, he allegedly returned home to Belgium in late 2013 via Greece.
On social media, Abu Oud is known as Abu Umar al-Belgiki, his nom de guerre that combines a Sunni Muslim first name with his country of origin.
From the Guardian:
“Evidence of his views suggests an unwavering commitment to the Isis cause. ‘All my life, I have seen the blood of Muslims flow,’ Abu Oud said. ‘I pray that Allah will break the backs of those who oppose him, his soldiers and his admirers, and that he will exterminate them.’ …
According to Belgian media, he fled Brussels in January this year after a terrorist cell in the eastern town of Verviers was broken up in a police raid in which two of his presumed accomplices, Abu Zubayr and Abu Khaled, fellow Belgians, were killed.
Omar, his father, complained that his son had ‘ruined our lives’ when he was linked to that incident. ‘Why in God’s name would he want to kill innocent Belgians?’ La Libre Belgique reported him as saying. ‘Our family owes everything to this country.'”
Two earlier attempted attacks were also linked to Abu Oud, French officials claim. One of the attacks, which was expected to impact a Paris-bound high-speed Thalys train, was thwarted in time by three young Americans. The second attack would have impacted a church in Villejuif in the suburbs of Paris in April.
“Speaking in January to the Isis magazine Dabiq, where his smiling photograph appeared, Abu Oud boasted that he had secretly returned to Belgium to lead the Verviers cell and then escaped back to Syria despite his picture being widely broadcast. ‘I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go as he did not see the resemblance!’
Asked why he became a suspect, Abu Oud said: ‘The intelligence [services] knew me from before as I had been previously imprisoned by them. After the raid on the safe house, they figured out that I had been with the brothers and that we had been planning operations together. So they gathered intelligence agents from all over the world—from Europe and America—in order to detain me.
‘They arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France and Belgium in order to apprehend me … All those arrested were not even connected to our plans! May Allah release all Muslims from the prisons of these crusaders.'”
In July, a Belgium court sentenced the young Abu Oud to 20 years in prison for recruiting young Muslims for ISIS. Thirty-two people were then charged for running one of the largest jihadist recruitment networks in the country. Most of the accused were tried in absentia and are still at large.
His younger brother was allegedly kidnapped by Abu Oud in January 2014 when he travelled with the young boy to Syria. The media calls the brother, known as Younes, “the youngest jihadist in the world.” The father filed a police complaint against his own son Abu Oud when he heard his younger son had left.
Abu Oud’s older sister, Yasmina claims the two boys were never religious before they left for Syria. “They did not even go to the mosque,” she told the New York Times. This account rings true, at least according to a 2008 classified briefing prepared by MI5’s behavioral science unit. According to the Guardian, analysts concluded that “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could … be regarded as religious novices.” During the briefing, analysts also claimed that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization.”
The jihadi fighter being called the mastermind of the Paris attacks owned a shop and lived with his wife and children in Molenbeek.
In the fall of 2014, Yasmina and her family received a call from Syria claiming Abu Oud had been killed in battle. To investigators, the claim was a ruse to force western intelligence to stop looking for him. In August of 2015, Abu Oud was appointed ISIS military commander in Deir al-Zor, southeast of Raqqa.
According to Le Monde, French officials had been after him for several months before Friday’s deadliest attacks. Last month, French forces targeted Abu Oud in Syria, using airstrikes to hit what officials believed to be his location.
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