The Islamic State had planned for more carnage during last year’s Paris attacks and wanted to follow up the assault with strikes against more targets in France and the Netherlands, CCN reported on Monday.
Among the fighters dispatched by the IS for the attacks in Paris were two men – Pakistani national Muhammad Usman and Algeria-born Adel Haddadi – who were unable to reach the French capital in time and were later arrested by security agencies in Austria. Usman is a suspected bomb-maker for the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Citing 90,000 pages of documents and photos from investigations across Europe and sources close to the probe into the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, CNN reported that the carnage in the French capital was “a slimmed-down version of an even more ambitious plan to hit Europe”
European investigators now believe the IS planned for the operatives it sent last year to hit other targets in France, including shopping areas and possibly a supermarket in Paris, and also attack the Netherlands, an unnamed European counter-terror official was quoted as saying.
Intelligence inputs also indicated the ISIS has stepped up efforts to infiltrate operatives into Britain to launch attacks there, another official said.
The European counter-terrorism official said security services were “uncovering more and more ISIS operatives” in continental Europe. These operatives have taken advantage of encryption, especially the Telegram messenger app, for secure communications and this is frustrating European security services.
Muhammad Usman and Adel Haddadi, whose capture has been described as a major breakthrough, set off for France along with two suicide bombers who later blew themselves up outside a Paris stadium last November. The duo set out from Raqqa in Syria, the capital of the IS “caliphate”, six weeks before the Paris attacks.
The men crossed into Turkey from Syria in early October and headed for the Turkish coast. Their journey was directed by a shadowy IS leader known only as Abu Ahmad, who connected them with smugglers and cars for transport, provided pre-programmed mobile phones and got them fake Syrian passports. He also wired them money and communicated using encrypted apps.
After getting into Greece in a boat filled with refugees, they were intercepted by the Greek Navy. Greek authorities discovered Haddadi and Usman’s fake Syrian passports and they were arrested and held for nearly a month.
As a result, they could not become part of the Paris attacks.
After Haddadi and Usman were released in late October, they continued along the refugee route. The men arrived in Salzburg, Austria, on November 14, the day after the Paris attacks, and applied for asylum. They then settled in a refugee centre, where they waited for weeks before they were arrested by Austrian authorities.
During their journey, Usman, who speaks only Urdu, was preoccupied with a “strikingly un-Islamic hobby” – using his phone to browse two dozen X-rated sites, including “sexxx lahur” and “Pakistani Lahore college girls...ImakeSex”.
After Haddadi and Usman failed to participate in the Paris attacks, were planning another strike in Europe, investigators concluded.
The documents also shed light on the highly organised IS branch responsible for plotting attacks inside Europe. The documents, including interrogation reports, investigative findings and data pulled from cell phones offered insight into the external operations wing known as the “Amn al-Kharji”.
“ISIS is increasing its international attack planning,” said Paul Cruickshank, editor of CTC Sentinel, a publication issued by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
“It’s increasingly sophisticated in the way it does this. It’s set up an intricate, logistical support system for these terrorists...to launch these terrorist attacks.”
Haddadi and Usman were extradited to France, where they face terrorism charges.