What we know about Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- the Paris attacks mastermind currently being targeted by French police

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Police operations in Paris on Wednesday morning are reportedly targeting Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national who is believed to be the mastermind behind Friday’s attacks on the French capital.

According to reports from French media and Reuters, two suspects have been killed in the police assault, and three are in custody, after gunfire and explosions were heard. The siege is ongoing, and two suspects are apparently still holding up in Saint-Denis, Paris.

Abaaoud grew up in the country’s capital Brussels, in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighbourhood. Police in Belgium have conducted raids in the area following the attacks on Paris, which killed 129 people and injured hundreds more.

An unnamed source told AP that he “appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe,” and had links to an attempted attack on a French high-speed train which was stopped by a group including two American servicemen.

Abaaoud has fought in Syria, and was used by ISIS as a poster boy to advertise the activity of European jihadists joining the terror group.

Earlier this year, ISIS’ propaganda magazine published an interview with Abaaoud describing his attempts to organise attacks in Europe: “We spent months trying to find a way into Europe, and by Allah’s strength, we succeeded in finally making our way to Belgium… We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders.”

The cell planning the attacks was broken up in January, but timeline of the attempt means that Abaaoud was able to return from ISIS to Europe, before going back to Syria early in 2015.

He also bragged about how he had evaded capture after his picture was circulated in his own native country.

According to the Associated Press, he had even encouraged his 13-year-old brother to join him in Syria. Younes Abaaoud did travel to the country, and was described by the Daily Mail as “ISIS’ youngest foreign jihadist” in August.

According to a profile published by the New York times, Abaaoud is despised by his own family, who were happy to hear reports a year ago that he had been killed in Syria. The NYT says his sister Yasmina said “we are praying that Abdelhamid really is dead.” His father said that “he destroyed our families. I don’t ever want to see him again.”

The NYT profile also confirms reports that Abaaoud attended a prestigious Catholic school as a child. Here’s a snippet:

Abaaoud showed far more interest in thievery and drugs when he was a young man than in Islam, particularly the highly disciplined, self-sacrificing Salafi strain favoured by many militants.

Nor was his family impoverished. His father, Omar, owned a clothing store off the market square in Molenbeek, a borough of Brussels, and the family lived nearby in a spacious if shabby corner home on Rue de l’Avenir — Future Street — near the local police station.

Despite his subsequent denunciations of the mistreatment suffered by Muslims in Europe, he enjoyed privileges available to few immigrants, including admission to an exclusive Catholic school, Collège Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, in an upscale residential district of Brussels.

It is unclear yet whether Abaaoud is among the suspects killed, captured or still held up in Saint-Denis right now.

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