Months before terrorists slipped into a concert hall in Paris and opened fire on revelers there to see a rock band, a French man returned from Syria and told intelligence officers that terrorists were in the planning stages of an attack, according to a confession published by the French newspaper Le Monde.
The man, a young computer technician, is identified as Reda H. by the paper. Over the summer, Reda returned from Raqqa, Syria, the de-facto capital of the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh).
He reportedly told intelligence officials in August that while he was in Syria, he met with a Belgian jihadist who asked Reda if he was interested in going abroad to mount an attack.
According to Le Monde, the jihadist was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who helped organise the November 13 attacks on Paris and was known to European counterterrorism authorities. ISIS-affiliated terrorists killed 130 people in several locations across the city that night.
“He said, for example, ‘Imagine a rock concert in a European country. If you were armed, would you be ready to shoot into the crowd?'” Reda said, according to an English translation by France24.
“All I can tell you is that this will happen very soon,” Reda reportedly told intelligence officers. “It’s a real factory out there, and they’re really trying to hit France or Europe.”
Reda claimed that he travelled to Syria because he wanted to fight the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Investigators noted that the attack in the works that Reda described in August was very similar to the one that was carried out at the Bataclan theatre in Paris. Three gunmen armed with AK-47s calmly shot into the crowd that night, killing 89 people, according to French authorities.
Abaaoud reportedly personally trained Reda in preparation for Reda returning to France for an attack. Reda was sent back to his home country before his French passport expired.
Syrian jihadists reportedly gave him €2,000 in cash and a USB stick with an encryption key that he could download on his computer. They told him to take a return route through the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Belgium — then wait for instructions when he got back to France, according to France24.
Abaaoud reportedly told Reda that if he didn’t agree to the attack, he would regret it. The jihadists apparently hoped that if they killed many civilians, France would alter its foreign policy. The night of the Paris attacks, terrorists at the Bataclan theatre announced that they were killing people because they opposed France’s bombing campaign in Syria.
Reda told authorities that he never intended to carry out the attack, and that he only agreed to return to France to await instructions because his passport was expiring soon and he wanted to get out of Syria.
France24 notes that “as specific as Reda’s testimony was, it was still impossible to pinpoint the exact target of the terror plot.” But it’s still unclear how Abaaoud managed to slip back into Europe through Greece without raising any alarms that would stop him, especially considering how much French intelligence officials knew about Abaaoud’s plans to stage an attack in France.
Abaaoud died in a Paris police raid in November after the attacks.
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