A ferry port in southeastern England has become a “weak link” in border security for the UK, according to a report in The New York Times.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an architect of the November terrorist attacks in Paris, was reportedly able to enter the UK despite being named in an international arrest warrant for helping to plot a failed terrorist attack in Belgium early last year.
It’s not clear when exactly Abaaoud became known to counterterrorism authorities, but he’s thought to have joined the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh) in 2014. And photos and videos of him in Syria appeared in news outlets that same year. Authorities haven’t disclosed specific dates of Abaaoud’s trip to Britain, according to The Times.
Abaaoud reportedly entered the UK through the ferry port of Dover in southeastern England, then likely travelled to London. Officials found photos of major London landmarks on Abaaoud’s mobile phone, according to The Times.
Other terrorist suspects have been able to travel freely through the Dover port. Another person connected to the Paris attacks, Mohamed Abrini, was spotted in England in July. And suspected ISIS terrorist Siddhartha Dhar was reportedly able to leave the UK via the Dover port while he was on police bail.
Terrorists don’t seem shy about calling attention to their ease of movement in and out of Europe.
Abaaoud gave an interview to ISIS’ English-language magazine earlier this year in which he bragged about how he evaded authorities after his photo was circulated in connection to a terrorist plot in Belgium.
“We spent months trying to find a way into Europe, and by Allah’s strength, we succeeded in finally making our way to Belgium,” he said. “We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders.”
He then boasted about how he had been known to Western intelligence agents, who he said arrested people all over Europe in an effort to get to him.
“The intelligence knew me from before as I had been previously imprisoned by them,” he said.
“So they gathered intelligence agents from all over the world — from Europe and America — in order to detain me,” he added. “They arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France, and Belgium in order to apprehend me … all those arrested were not even connected to our plans!”
Abaaoud told Muslims that they “should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence.”
“My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary,” Abaaoud told the propaganda magazine Dabiq.
UK politicians are now calling for a review of security at Britain’s seaports.
Andy Burnham, a spokesman for the Labour Party on police and security issues, called the Dover ferry border a “weak link.”
“Not only did we discover last week that a UK terror suspect on bail waltzed out at the border, we now learn a terror suspect from the continent freely walked in through the same route,” Burnham said in a statement, according to The Times.
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