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Paris-Brussels Attacks Network a 'Supercell' of Extremism

The number of people linked to the Islamic State network that attacked Paris and Brussels reaches easily into the dozens.

Published: 11th April 2016 11:31 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th April 2016 11:31 PM   |  A+A-

najim_AP

In this undated combination photo provided by the Belgian Federal Police in Brussels on Monday, March 21, 2016, suspect Najim Laachraoui is shown. | AP

By AP

PARIS: The number of people linked to the Islamic State network that attacked Paris and Brussels reaches easily into the dozens, with a series of new arrests over the weekend that confirmed the cell's toxic reach and ability to move around unnoticed in Europe's criminal underworld.

From Belgium's Molenbeek to Sweden's Malmo, new names are added nearly daily to the list of hardened attackers, hangers-on, and tacit supporters of the cell that killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels.

A computer abandoned by one of the Brussels suicide bombers in a trash can contained not only his will, but is beginning to give up other information as well, including an audio file indicating the cell was getting its orders directly from a French-speaking extremist in Syria, according to a police official with knowledge of the investigation.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak publicly about the investigation.

Ten men are known to be directly involved in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris; others with key logistical roles then including the bomber, a logistics handler, and a hideout scout went on to plot the attack March 22 in Brussels.

But unlike Paris, at least two people who survived the attack have been taken into custody alive, including Mohamed Abrini, the Molenbeek native who walked away from the Brussels international airport after his explosives failed to detonate.

But investigators fear it may not be enough to stave off another attack. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, another Molenbeek native whose charisma made him a natural draw to many in the Brussels neighborhood after he joined IS extremists in Syria, said before his death that he returned to Europe among a group of 90 fighters from Europe and the Mideast, according to testimony from a woman who tipped police to his location.

Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer who is now with the Soufan Group security consultancy, described the Brussels -Paris network as a "supercell."

"The hope was that they had died out in the Paris attacks, and obviously that's not true," Skinner said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press. "They (authorities) knew who these people were. And they still managed to pull off the first Paris attack, which was the worst attack in France since WWII, and then under incredible scrutiny, they still pulled off the worse attack in Belgium since WWII. So this is a highly functioning cell."

Normally, Skinner said, an extremist cell has six to 10 people linked by pre-existing ties.

"It makes it very difficult to crack. You're not sending an informant into this group, because they know each other. So no one new is just walking into this," he said. "It's so big,

look at the people on the periphery, logistics, the people that are suspected. You're looking at 50 people. That's not a cell; that's a terrorist group."



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