Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud 'killed by French special forces'
Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud - named as the ringleader of the Paris massacres - has been killed in a gun battle with French special forces, according to reports.
Abaaoud came on to the international radar as a radical Muslim combatant for the first time in February 2014, said Jasmine Opperman, a senior director with the independent Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC).
Western recruits had flocked to Syria from Europe and elsewhere to battle the forces of Syrian president Bashar Assad, and fighters from Belgium and other French-speaking countries were co-ordinating assaults north of Aleppo.
During the campaign, Abaaoud was filmed at the wheel of a pickup truck dragging a load of mutilated bodies following a mass execution committed by Islamic State at a place called Hraytan.
Abaaoud, by then using a nom de guerre, Abou Omar Soussi, wore the same kind of hat as many Afghan mujahedeen, and joked and appeared happy.
"His father was very much against him going there," the Belgian source told AP. But there was much worse news for the family.
Also in 2014, Abaaoud persuaded younger brother Younes, then 13, to join him in the territory under control of IS. Though Belgium has produced more radical Islamic fighters relative to its total population than any other European country, the departure of the boy - dubbed "Syria's youngest jihadi" - made national headlines. It also made Abaaoud a household name here.
In July, the Belgian courts found Abaaoud guilty in absentia of kidnapping Younes. Ms Gallant said the father believes his older son "wanted to pull him away from a bad education which he considered too Europeanised".
Ms Gallant, quoting the father, said he hopes that when current events are over "I will finally learn what became of Younes."
TRAC analysts last pinpointed Abaaoud in Syria in October 2014, fighting with a Libyan group named Katiba al Bittar, Ms Opperman told AP.
But his major focus reportedly lay elsewhere. French officials said he is believed to have links to two terrorist acts in their country earlier this year that were thwarted, one against a Thalys-high speed train, the other apparently targeting a church in suburban Paris.
Authorities in Belgium also suspect Abaaoud of helping organise and finance a terror cell in the eastern city of Verviers that was broken up in a January 15 police raid in which two of his suspected accomplices were killed. But the storekeeper's son eluded them.
"He likely snuck out again via Greece," Mr Koens said. But he said he was not sure.
The next month, Abaaoud was quoted by IS's English-language magazine, Dabiq, as ridiculing the inability of Western law enforcement to bag him. He said he secretly returned to Belgium to lead the terror cell, then escaped to Syria despite having his picture broadcast across the news.
"I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!" Abaaoud said.