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U.S. identified Paris attackers six months ago and predicted terror plot, so why didn’t they stop it?

The U.S. government predicted ISIS-led terror plots against Western cities six months ago, as well as knew the identity of the man believed to be the mastermind behind the recent attacks in Paris, France.

In May of this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published an intelligence assessment[PDF] warning of coming terror attacks in Western cities, even naming the guy they thought would do it.(1)

Published by DHS Intelligence and Analysis directorate in partnership with the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, the report named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old from Belgium, as being a man who would orchestrate terror attacks against the West, reports the Daily Mail.(2)

If the West and its allies knew Abaaoud was an imminent threat, why didn’t they stop him?

While we don’t support the government’s targeted drone program due to its ineffectiveness and its inability to be precise (just to name a few reasons), based on arguments made by U.S. intelligence officials, suspected militants like Abaaoud are exactly the kind of targets the military says it prioritizes.

Under the U.S. military’s drone program, President Obama has about two months to sign off  on the assassination of a target they suspect is “a continuing, imminent threat,” according to a report written by The Intercept’s Cora Currier titled “The Kill Chain” – one of eight reports published by The Intercept in a series coined The Drone Papers.(3)

Belgium raid in early 2015 provided U.S. with intel on Paris attacks, report finds

The DHS reportedly learned about Abaaoud’s identity following an anti-terrorism raid in Verviers, Belgium, in January 2015. Two suspected terrorists with radical Islamist ties were killed during the raid in Belgium, and a third was arrested, the Daily Mail reports. Officials believe the suspected terrorists were under the influence of ISIS.

Credit: London Media

Abdelhamid Abaaoud on the left (Credit: London Media)

Following the raid, “multiple individuals” were arrested in several European countries and charged in connection with planned terrorist plots in the West. The DHS says the bust was the first in which a “large group of terrorists” possibly acting under the influence of ISIS was discovered, leading them to believe that more attacks throughout Europe were on its way.

Items recovered by Belgian officials during the raid suggested that terrorists may use “small arms, improvised explosive devices” and tactics such as impersonating police officers in future attacks, according to the assessment.

Automatic firearms, precursors for the explosive triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a body camera, multiple cell phones, handheld radios, fraudulent identification documents and large quantities of cash were also found.

The assessment predicted that terror attacks were more likely to happen in Europe “where several recruitment networks have been disrupted, and several returning fighters have already demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks—than in the United States given the different operating environments, number of European foreign fighters currently in theater, and Europe’s geographic proximity to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.”

Mastermind behind Paris attacks faked his death in 2014 in order to avoid detection

Terror networks operating across several countries pose challenges regarding law enforcement’s ability to “detect and investigate multi-jurisdictional threats,” says the assessment, highlighting the importance of “sharing information about emerging and ongoing threats.”

The DHS wrote that the terrorist group’s activities spanned several European countries, including France, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands.

Abaaoud, the purported leader of the foiled Belgium attack, was believed to have orchestrated “the operation from a safe house in Athens, Greece using a cell phone, while other group members operated in several other European countries.”

Media reports indicate that he was behind a phone call made in 2014 to his family informing them that he had died while fighting in Syria. Authorities only discovered this to be untrue upon learning about his involvement in the foiled Belgium attacks.

The following illustration depicts the Belgian location where some of the suspected militants were apprehended, as well as their training grounds and other networks operating in France.



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