IS in Europe: The race to the death

French security forces fired thousands of rounds at the flat in St Denis where Abaaoud took refuge PHOTO: BBC

French security forces fired thousands of rounds at the flat in St Denis where Abaaoud took refuge PHOTO: BBC

Tuesday’s devastating attacks in Brussels, in which more than 30 people died and scores were injured, are the latest phase of the war on Europe declared by the so-called Islamic State.

The attacks cast a dark shadow over last week’s triumph, the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.

The hope will be that Abdeslam, one of the leading members of the cell behind the Paris attacks, will provide crucial intelligence on the current state of IS’s network and its future plans.

Getting captured IS fighters to talk is one of the crucial ways in which Western intelligence services have built up the picture of its European network and in particular the role of its former commander, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

The BBC’s Panorama programme has seen the transcripts of some important interrogations carried out by France’s equivalent of MI5, the DGSI. They reveal valuable details about the tactics used by Abaaoud to train and equip IS fighters in Europe.

Nicolas Moreau was one them. He was arrested in 2015 having left Nantes to fight jihad in Syria in 2014.

He, like many IS recruits, was a petty criminal who had converted to Islam in prison and become disillusioned with life in France.

He told his interrogators he couldn’t stand the “injustice” and “couldn’t see any future in this country”.

He went on to provide valuable information about IS’s external operations department known as Amni, meaning “security”, that sends hand-picked trained fighters back to Europe to inflict death and destruction on their homelands.

“Each gets 50,000 euros (£40,000) to mount an attack,” Amni, with 1,500 members, also had an internal security role “to detect spies in Iraq and Syria”, he said.

Crucially he then revealed the kunya, the nom de guerre of the person in charge of Amni – Abu Omar from Brussels.

In fact, Abu Omar’s real name was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the commander of the network that was to plan and execute a number of attacks in Europe in 2015, culminating in the meticulously planned massacres in Paris.

Another IS fighter, Reda Hame, captured in France in August 2015, gave more precise details about Abaaoud that helped intelligence agencies fill in the picture about how his network operated.

Hame’s value to Abaaoud was that his French passport was due to expire and Abaaoud wanted to get him back to Europe to carry out an attack while his passport was still valid.

He said Abaaoud was “a very tough person, very determined and very dangerous”.

Time was of the essence to take advantage of the expiry date. Abaaoud personally gave Hame a crash course in weapons training and then issued instructions.

Getting weapons in France, he said, was not a problem.

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