Brussels ISIL terror cell

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Brussels ISIL terror cell
DisbandedMarch 2016
Allegiance Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
TypeTerror cell
Garrison/HQBrussels, Belgium
EngagementsNovember 2015 Paris attacks
2015 Saint-Denis raid
2016 Brussels police raids
2016 Brussels bombings
Brussels lockdown
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi (Leader of ISIL)

The Brussels ISIL terror cell were a group accused of involvement in large-scale terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 (130 killed) and Brussels in early 2016 (32 killed), as well as other attacks against European targets. The terror cell is connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist terrorist organisation primarily based in Syria and Iraq and led by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi.


Several Islamist terrorist attacks originated in Belgium, and a number of counter-terrorist operations had been carried out there. In 2014, a gunman with ties to the Syrian Civil War attacked the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, killing four people.[1][2] In January 2015, anti-terrorist operations against a group thought to be planning a second Charlie Hebdo shooting included raids in Brussels and Zaventem, these operations resulted in the deaths of two suspects.[3][4]

As of January 2015 Belgium had more nationals fighting for jihadist forces as a proportion of its population than any other Western European country, with an estimated 440 Belgians having left for Syria and Iraq.[5][6] According to The Wall Street Journal, Belgium's weak security apparatus and competing intelligence agencies, made it become a hub of jihadist-recruiting and terrorist activity.[7]

Main suspects[edit]

Abdelhamid Abaaoud[edit]

Abdelhamid Abaaoud (8 April 1987 – 18 November 2015), also known by his two noms de guerre Abu Omar Soussi and Abu Umar al-Baljiki, was a Belgian-Moroccan[8][9][10] Islamic terrorist, who had spent time in Syria, known as a place where radical groups operate and train.[11] He was suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have masterminded in the November 2015 Paris attacks.[12] Prior to the Paris attacks, there was an international arrest warrant issued for Abaaoud for his activities in recruiting individuals to Islamic terrorism in Syria.[13]

Salah Abdeslam[edit]

Salah Abdeslam (born 15 September 1989) is a Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent.[14][15] He is accused of involvement in the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, through providing logistical support for the assailants and driving them to their target locations.[14] He is thought to have been in charge of logistics for the group.[16]

November 2015 Paris assailants[edit]

Nationalities of the terrorists[17]
Country Number from country
 Iraq (believed to be)

Three teams, comprising three people each, executed the November 2015 Paris attacks.[17][18] They wore explosive vests and belts with identical detonators.[19] Seven perpetrators died at the scenes of their attacks.[20][21] The other two were killed five days later during the Saint-Denis police raid.

Stade de France attackers[edit]

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up near the Stade de France:

Bilal Hadfi[edit]

Bilal Hadfi, a 20-year-old French citizen who had been living in Belgium.[22] Hadfi attempted to enter the Stade de France but blew himself up nearby after being denied entry.[23] He fought with ISIL in Syria for more than a year and was a supporter of the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram.[24] In the months before the attacks, he was active on social media, posting pro-jihadist messages, and communicated with a Libyan branch of ISIL.[25] Belgian prosecutors knew Hadfi had gone to fight in Syria but did not know of his return to the EU.[23]

"Ahmad al-Mohammad"[edit]

Another bomber carried a passport belonging to a 25-year-old Syrian named "Ahmad al-Mohammad".[23][24] A passport-holder claiming to be a Syrian refugee with that name was registered on Leros in October upon his arrival from Turkey.[26] The dead attacker's fingerprints matched those taken at the registration on Leros.[23][27][28][29][30] French officials concluded that "Ahmad al-Mohammad" is probably a dead Syrian soldier whose passport was stolen after he was killed in Syria.[31][32] ISIS identified him as "Ukasah al-Iraqi", indicating that he was from Iraq.[33] This was later confirmed in January 2017 when a declassified French intelligence file identified the bomber as Ammar Ramadan Mansour Mohamad al-Sabaawi, an Iraqi in his twenties from Mosul.[34] ISIS paid al-Sabaawi's family $5,000 and flock a sheep after his death.[35]

"M. al-Mahmod"[edit]

The third bomber has not been named by French police yet, but his image released by the authorities has been matched by the BBC with a photo on arrival papers at Leros belonging to a man travelling together with "Ahmad al-Mohammed" under the name of "M. al-Mahmod".[36] Like al-Sabaawi, ISIS identified him as an Iraqi and called him "Ali al-Iraqi", but his true identity has never been determined.[33]

Paris restaurant attackers[edit]

Three men are thought to have carried the shootings at bars and restaurants in Paris:[23]

Abdelhamid Abaaoud[edit]

Refer to Main suspects section

Ibrahim Abdeslam[edit]

Brahim Abdeslam, a 31-year-old French member of the Molenbeek terror cell living in Belgium, carried out shootings in the 10th and 11th arrondissements. Shortly afterwards, he blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on the boulevard Voltaire.[23][24][37][38][39]

Chakib Akrouh[edit]

Chakib Akrouh, a 25-year-old Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent, with the nom de guerre Abu Mujahid al-Baljiki, who blew himself up during the Saint-Denis police raid that occurred five days after the Paris attacks. Akrouh was not identified until 15 January 2016.[40]

Bataclan theatre attackers[edit]

Three other men attacked the Bataclan theatre using AKMs and took hostages.[37] Two blew themselves up when police raided the theatre. The third was hit by police gunfire and his vest blew up when he fell.[37] According to French police, they were:

Samy Amimour[edit]

Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old Frenchman from Paris who fought in Yemen and was known to the intelligence services,[23][41] had reportedly been on the run from police since 2012 due to being wanted over terrorism related charges.[42]

Omar Ismail Mostefai[edit]

Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year-old Frenchman from the Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, of Algerian descent,[23] travelled to Syria in 2013 and may have spent time in Algeria.[43] In 2010, the French authorities had put Mostefai on a database as a suspected Islamic radicals.[23] He was identified by a severed finger found inside the Bataclan.[24][44] Mostefai was featured in an exhibition by artist Henrik Grimbäck in an Museum of Martyrs exhibition beside famous human rights activists like Martin Luther King.[45][46]

Foued Mohamed-Aggad[edit]

Foued Mohamed-Aggad, a 23-year-old Frenchman from Wissembourg, of Moroccan descent, who travelled to Syria in 2013.[23][47]

Brussels suspects[edit]

Ibrahim El Bakraoui[edit]

Ibrahim El Bakraoui (9 October 1986 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, confirmed to be one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels Airport during the Brussels bombings in 2016.[48][49]

Khalid El Bakraoui[edit]

Khalid El Bakraoui (12 January 1989 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian national of Moroccan descent and the brother of Ibrahim El Bakraoui, confirmed to be the suicide bomber who attacked Maalbeek metro station during the Brussels bombings.[48][49]

Najim Laachraoui[edit]

Najim Laachraoui (18 May 1991 – 22 March 2016) was a Belgian-Moroccan national, confirmed to be the second suicide bomber at the Brussels Airport in the Brussels bombings. He is also suspected of making the bombs used in the November 2015 Paris attacks.[50] In addition, Laachraoui was a suspected accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, the surviving member of the group directly linked to the Paris attacks.[51]

Mohamed Abrini[edit]

Mohamed Abrini (born 27 December 1984)[52] is a Belgian national of Moroccan descent who is alleged to have been involved in the planning and execution of the Paris attacks and the Brussels bombings.[53] He was filmed together with Laachraoui and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui at the Brussels Airport before the bombings occurred.[54] Abrini's brother died fighting for jihadists in Syria in 2014[55]

Osama Krayem[edit]

Osama Krayem (born 1992) is a Swedish national of Syrian origin suspected of involvement in the Brussels bombings.[56][57] Krayem was the second bomber at the Maalbeek metro station, having been filmed with Khalid El Bakraoui at another metro station minutes before the attack.[58][59]

Other suspects[edit]

November 2015 Paris attacks[edit]

Hasna Aït Boulahcen[edit]

Hasna Aït Boulahcen was the cousin of the group ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud.[60] She died of asphyxiation.[61] Her family argued she was killed by an explosion from a suicide vest during the Saint-Denis raid.[62] It was not clear if she detonated the vest or if she was killed by someone else detonating their suicide vest close by.[63]

Hamza Attou, Mohamed Amri and Ali Oulkadi[edit]

After the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam escaped France and made his way back to Belgium with the help of 3 accomplices. Hamza Attou was charged for driving Abdeslam back to Brussels from Paris on the night of the attacks. Mohamed Amri was also said to be in the car with Attou and Abdeslam.[64] On the way, they were checked by police at checkpoints three times without being arrested. Once in Brussels, Mohammed Amri left the vehicle, while Hamza Attou called Ali Oulkadi, a third suspect, to ask him to go to the Bockstael subway station. Oulkadi went for Attou and Abdeslam and accompanied them to a café, where Salah Abdeslam admitted to having been involved in the Paris attacks and said that his brother Brahim had killed himself with explosives. Following this discussion, Oulkadi drove Salah Abdeslam to Schaerbeek.[65]

Abraimi Lazez[edit]

A Moroccan resident of Brussels was charged after police believed he helped Abdeslam when he returned to Brussels after they found two handguns and traces of blood in his car.[66]

Sofien Ayari[edit]

Fired upon police with Salah Abdeslam before they were both arrested after the police raids.[67]

Oussama Atar[edit]

In November 2016, a Belgian-Moroccan jihadist operating in Syria known as Oussama Atar  [fr] was believed to have organised the deadly terrorist attacks on Paris and Brussels.[68]

Atar was the head of an intelligence-gathering unit based in Raqqa while the Islamic State was at the height of power over its caliphate.[69]

Intelligence teams believed to have identified him after searching for a man known as Abou Ahmad whose name emerged after the arrest of two men in Austria a few weeks after the attacks in Paris. The pair, an Algerian named Adel Haddadi and a Pakistani, were detained on the Greek island of Leros weeks earlier and were unable to travel to Paris with the two Iraqis who blew themselves up at the Stade de France in Paris. He has links to bombers who targeted Paris and Brussels and was the only man in intelligence teams investigation who was linked to both atrocities. He first traveled to Syria from Belgium in 2002 and then went back in 2004 before travelling to Iraq, where he was arrested for crossing the border illegally and jailed for 10 years in 2005. He was imprisoned in the famous Abu Ghraib prison, run by US forces. He returned to Belgium in 2012 but 7 years in jail had left him radicalized. Atar's younger brother Yassine was arrested around the time of the Brussels attacks and their mothers home has been raided several times.[68]

He was killed in Syria 17 November 2017, though French authorities did not announce this publicly as this would acknowledge that assassinations outside the legal framework were used.[69]

Zakaria Boufassil and Mohammed Ali Ahmed[edit]

In July 2015, months before the Paris terror attacks, two men named Zakaria Boufassil and Mohammed Ali Ahmed met with one of the main suspects in the attacks, Mohamed Abrini, in a park in Birmingham, United Kingdom.[70] They gave him £3,000 out of a bank account that was set up by another man who traveled to Syria to join ISIL.[71] It was found that most of the money came from housing benefits.[72] In December 2016, both men were found guilty for preparing acts of terrorism.[73]

Arrests during the 2016 Brussels police raids[edit]

On 15 March, police carried out a raid on a house in Forest, a suburb of Brussels, in relation to the November 2015 Paris attacks.[74][75] Four police officers were wounded in the raid,[76] while one suspect was killed.[77] The dead suspect was identified as Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian.[78] Belkaid is believed to have been the leader of the cell.[79]

Three days later on 18 March, a second raid was conducted in the Molenbeek area of Brussels.[80] Five people, including Salah Abdeslam, three of Abdeslam's relatives, and Monir Ahmed Alaaj, were arrested. Abdeslam and Alaaj were both injured during the raid.[81][82][83][84][85]

2016 Brussels bombings[edit]

On 24 March, six people were arrested in police raids in Brussels, Jette and Schaerbeek, all in connection with the investigation into the bombings.[86]

As of 26 March, twelve men had been arrested in connection with the bombings.[87] The same day, Belgian prosecutors charged Fayçal Cheffou, who had been detained two days prior in front of the Belgian prosecutor's office, with "terrorist murders, attempted murder relating to terror plots, and links to terror groups"; Cheffou was suspected of being the man on the right in the CCTV footage of the airport.[88] However, on 28 March, Cheffou was released due to a lack of evidence.[89]

On 27 March, an Algerian who was part of a counterfeiting ring that provided forged documents to the perpetrators in both the Paris and Brussels attacks was arrested in Italy. The Belgian government had issued a European Arrest Warrant for the man, who the ANSA news agency identified as 40-year-old Djamal Eddine Ouali on 6 January. Ouali's name emerged during searches carried out in October in the Saint-Gilles borough of Brussels, which yielded around 1,000 digital images that were being used to make false identity documents.[90]

Two men were detained on 25 March but later exonerated for any connection to the cell. The first, a 28-year-old failed, Moroccan, male asylum-seeker, was detained following a routine police check in Giessen, Germany, for being in contact with the Brussels attackers' immediate network.[91] He had an acquaintance with a similar name to Khalid El Bakraoui, and a text message with the word "fin" was found on his cell phone; the "fin" was initially interpreted as "the end" in French, though it turned out to be the word "where" transcribed from Arabic. The second man, identified only as Samir E., was arrested in Düsseldorf, Germany, in connection with the bombings.[92]

Planned terrorist activities[edit]

According to Yahoo news, the cell initially planned to launch a second assault on Paris following the November 2015 attacks there, however, they chose to rush an attack on Brussels after being surprised by the progress of the French investigation.[93] In September 2016, CNN claimed to have obtained 90,000 pages of documents on the Paris attacks investigation, which said that ISIL leaders reportedly planned other attacks in France and the Netherlands on 13 November 2015.[94]

See also[edit]


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