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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Single IS group plot behind string of French, Belgian attacks: Prosecutor

AFP , Monday 13 Nov 2017
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The Paris and Brussels attacks, a botched shooting on a high-speed train and a foiled plot in Belgium may have all been part of one big Islamic State group operation, Belgium's federal prosecutor said Monday.

Speaking on the second anniversary of the November 13 Paris attacks, chief prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw confirmed for the first time what investigators have been saying privately about the possible links.

"We indeed realise that Verviers, Thalys, November 13 and the March 22 attacks may have been one big operation by Daesh," the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, Van Leeuw told Belgian radio.

Verviers is a city in French-speaking Belgium where an armed police raid on January 15, 2015 -- shortly after an attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris -- led to the dismantling of a cell suspected of plotting to attack the police.

The investigation found that the Verviers cell was directed from abroad by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Moroccan Belgian who fought for IS in Syria and played a key role in the November 13 Paris attacks before he was killed by a French police raid days later.

Abaaoud is also believed to have ordered the botched attack by Moroccan gunman Ayoub El Khazzani on the high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015.

Three men linked to Abaaoud were charged in the last few weeks in France and Belgium in connection with the Thalys attack.

"We have to dig," Van Leeuw said, adding the investigations were getting harder as detectives no longer had access to some telephone data.

Investigators said the November 13 gun and bomb attacks in Paris showed that they were largely organised from Belgium by Abaaoud's network who were acting on orders from the IS high command in Syria and Iraq.

The attacks cost the lives of 130 people.

Investigators said other members believed to have been from the same Belgian-French cell carried out the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Belgium that killed 32 people.

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