The notorious Abdelhamid Abaaoud was not the mastermind of the terrorist attacks in which he was involved. At the time of the plot that was foiled in Verviers, he was under the command of man code-named ‘Padre’. Investigators could not figure out yet who he is. But the Belgian daily ‘Het Laatste Nieuws‘ discovered that ‘Padre’ very likely is a Belgian too — hailing from the same Brussels suburb as Abaaoud.
‘Padre’ is barely mentioned in the judgment of last summer’s trial about the Verviers plot, while he was the highest in command of all terrorists named in that 200 page document. He was even higher ranked than Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian of Moroccan descent once labeled by some as the Islamic State’s minister of war. Telephone tapping made clear that Abaaoud had to obey Padre’s orders, the judgment states explicitly.
One example is the call that Abaaoud made on the 2nd of January 2015, thirteen days before the Verviers plot was foiled. “Our chief says that you have to keep quiet”, he told an accomplice in Belgium, while he was coordinating the plot from Greece himself. “He says that you should stop talking too much.” The accomplice reacted in anger, asking Abaaoud to call “Padre” and tell him that he should reprimand someone else. “It’s someone over there who is talking about me”, he fulminated — clearly pointing to a person in Syria.
A second phone call indicating that ‘Padre’ was in charge over the Verviers plot, happened on the 13th of January 2015. It was Soufiane Amghar, one of the terrorists killed two days later during the police operation in Verviers, telling Abaaoud: “Padre told that you will warn as soon as there are ten of us. That’s what he told, isn’t it? I’m asking you because it is depending on this when everything will start, you see?”
But more has never become known about ‘Padre’ — even not from which country he hailed. He wasn’t included in the list of defendants at the Verviers trial last year, and when asked whether his identity has become clear in the meantime, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office answered in the negative last week. We did find a strong indication however in our archive of Facebook accounts of Belgian foreign fighters in Syria: a picture of a man who was called “Padre” in 2015, while posing together with Younes, Abaaoud’s little brother he took with him to Syria three years ago.
The man on the picture is Dniel Mahi, a thirty year old Belgian from Molenbeek. He also used the alias ‘Abu Idriss’ and has his roots in Nador, a city in the north of Morocco, where Spanish often is the second language instead of French. That might explain why he was code-named with the Spanish word for ‘father’. It is known that Mahi left for Syria on the 20th of January 2014. Exact the same day as Abaaoud departed for a second time, after picking up his brother Younes from school.
There are other Facebook pictures showing that Mahi belonged to Katibat al-Battar, the elite brigade within Islamic State which also included Abaaoud among its members, and often has served as a recruitment pool for terrorist attacks in the West. Up till now, Mahi’s name was rarely mentioned in the investigations, although he seems to be involved in multiple plots. The first one is the shooting on the 24th of May 2014 against the Jewish museum in Brussels, where Mehdi Nemmouche has killed four people in what is considered as Islamic State’s very first attack on European soil.
That Nemmouche did not act as a lone wolf, as initially was thought, was proven by a phone call with Abaaoud four months prior to the attack. Nemmouche was at that time in Turkey, while Abaaoud was in Belgium. Their conversation lasted 24 minutes. But Abaaoud was not the first Islamic State operative Nemmouche wanted to call. “Earlier that day, Nemmouche had tried to contact Dniel Mahi, (…) then in Belgium and a close friend of Abaaoud”, it was reported recently in an overview of Islamic State’s attacks in Europe published by the CTC Sentinel.
Chances exist that Mahi was also involved in the attempt to steer Frenchman Reda Hame to an attack. Hame was sent back to Europe in June 2015, but he was caught in time. During interrogations, he declared that Abaaoud was one of the people in Syria who had commanded the attack. Before he left, Abaaoud had given him a piece of paper with a telephone number, mentioning the word “papa”. That’s the French equivalent of ‘Padre’, and although most sources have considered it as a code name for Abaaoud, Hame has never told so explicitly and stated that the number got lost.
As far as we know, there are no indications that Mahi was involved in the attacks of November 2015 in Paris and March 2016 in Brussels. Apparently, the code name ‘Padre’ did not surface in those investigations. That could be a consequence of Mahi being killed in the meantime in Syria. There are rumours about that, although it is absolutely not clear how reliable they are. Because the attack in Brussels was planned at the times of Verviers already (prove of that are drawings of a terrorist carrying a bomb on a luggage cart at Brussels airport, found at an Athens address where Abaaoud was hiding early in 2015), it is reasonable to think that Mahi had a role in those early plans too.
A confidant of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the Paris terrorists killed by French police, has made a new threat. He posted a picture of Abaaoud’s brother Younes, insinuating that the 15 year old boy is on his way to Europe for revenge.
The author of the Facebook message that was posted on Tuesday and reported by the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’, presents the younger Abaaoud as “my dear Abu Mansour”. That is an alias already used by Younes himself, after his brother took him to Syria in January of last year.
“Abu Omar al-Soussi may have been martyred”, the message continues, refering to the police operation in Saint-Denis on the 18th of November in which Abdelhamid died. “But his brother is alive. And we are coming to the worshippers of the cross.”
The picture showing Younes as a soldier isn’t new. It was posted in December of last year already by another IS fighter linked to the Molenbeek brothers. So it isn’t clear whether the author is really in touch with the teenager, and can speak about his plans. From Younes himself nothing was heard on social media recently, although his latest Facebook account still exists.
Other pictures on the author’s Facebook account suggest that he also is in Syria, however. And late last year, the same ‘Abou Soufiane Belgikimohajir’ was connected to Abaaoud’s sister Yasmina, not an extremist herself. A clear sign of his close relationship to Abaaoud.
Nowadays, he is connected both to members of Katibat al-Battar — the elite militia within IS to which Abaaoud belonged — and extremists all over Europe. An example of the latter is Michael ‘Younnes’ Delefortrie, a former Shariah4Belgium member who came back from Syria, was convicted but is free again.
A quick update to yesterday’s story about the brothers Abdelhamid (27) and Younes (13) Abaaoud, the latter being Belgium’s — and probably Europe’s — youngest foreign fighter in Syria. We have identified that same Abdelhamid in a video showing the removal of corpses after the mass execution that ISIS committed last month in Hraytan.
The video was obtained by the French magazine Paris-Match, and according to the article that was published online, it was filmed using Abdelhamid’s mobile phone. But it wasn’t he who made the images — that was the work of a friend. Paris-Match identified both Belgian fighters only by their aliases, Abou Omar and Abou Mehdi.
Abou Mehdi is easily recognizable by the G-Star hat visible on several portraits on his Facebook page. That mentions Brussels as his place of residence, but also that he has studied at the ‘Institut des Arts et Métiers de Pierrard’ in the rather remote Belgian-Luxembourg town of Virton. His real name seems to be Khaled Hachti Bernan. His birthday is October 30, but he doesn’t reveal his year of birth.
Abou Omar — seen behind the wheel of a Dodge towing several corpses and heard while joking: “You can film my trailer now” — is wearing the same sweater as in the video we posted yesterday of him, and the same pakol (an Afghan hat) as in the picture we found on his Facebook page. His ‘nom de guerre’ is Abou Omar Soussi, as we mentioned yesterday.
A third foreign fighter that appears in the video, seems to be Abou Yahya Beljiki — another Belgian member of ISIS. We’re not sure about his true identity, but one of his Facebook pictures can be seen here. The background of the image does resemble the luxurious villa near Aleppo where lots of the Belgian ISIS fighters were staying for several months.
Belgium’s youngest fighter in Syria appears to be only thirteen years old. Brussels born Younes Abaaoud was taken there by his older brother at the end of January. Abdelhamid (27) has joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and told his father by phone that Younes doesn’t take part in the war — despite pictures of him with a gun.
Father Omar, a Moroccan born shopkeeper living already about forty years in Belgium, revealed the fate of his sons yesterday in the Belgian newspaper ‘La Capitale‘. He described the youngest one as a boy who never showed signs of religious extremism, told about his fear that he never will see him again and that his third son too could decide to join the other two.
We managed to find the Facebook accounts of both brothers, learning more about them. Abdelhamid is using the alias ‘Abou Omar Soussi’, referring to his father’s name and the Souss region in Morocco where his family has it’s roots. His account is active since July 15 of last year, mentioning ISIS (“Dawla Islamiya fi L’Iraq wa Cham”) as affiliation and showing a picture of him in Syria with the comment: “Abou Omar the Belgian in the trenches”, posted on February 8, 2014.
Four days ago, he also linked to a video showing him during a fight, hosted by YouTube and also saved here. The part in which he appears, is titled “Message of Abou Omar Al-Belgiki from the land of the battles” and starts at 00:04:31. “Our enemy advances with tanks, heavy artillery and plenty of men”, he tells in French, “while we are only about fifty fighters, lacking artillery and most of us only armed with a kalashnikov. But we do have the mightiest weapon a man can have in the fight against the enemies of Allah.”
One of the people reacting in the following days, was his own sister Yasmin. “Apparently, you feel that your weapon won’t help against your enemies, who are much more numerous and well-equiped. Why don’t you leave that place?” His answer: “Those who read and understand the coran, know that military overweight doesn’t bring victory. Only Allah does. Most of the victories that muslims were given by Allah, were victories of a minority.”
Back in the video, Abdelhamid explains why it is making him happy to see the blood of infidels being spilled. “That’s because I had to watch my entire life television images of muslim blood being spilled. I pray that Allah will break the backs of those opposing him, their soldiers and their admirers, and exterminate them.” He also calls muslims from all over the world to come to Syria. “A muslim should only submit to Allah, while you are submitting to the infidels”, he says.
Younes seems to use a Facebook account under the alias ‘Abou Mansour’. Although the date of birth mentioned there — June 22, 1990 — cannot be right, there are several interactions indicating it is him. For example, when pictures of Younes with a gun are posted, his brother reacts: “Truly a man” and another European fighter states: “Truly a fighter.” It is ‘Abou Mansour’ who takes the credits by answering: “Thank you, brothers. May Allah bless you.” Probably he just wanted to look older than he really is, not so unusual for a teenager.
Also pointing in his direction is the fact that ‘Abou Mansour’ is active on Facebook since January 26 of this year, around the moment both brothers arrived in Syria. One of the images is showing Younes there in the company of another Belgian fighter, ‘Abu Houdaifa Ahmed’. He is one of the ‘Shariah4Belgium’ followers from Vilvoorde near Brussels who traveled to Syria — ending up in a group of Belgian and French ISIS fighters based in Hraytan near Aleppo. Last month, they were forced to move to Azaz, after which they were implicated in several cruelties such as beheadings.