Report: Airstrikes, intel failed to stop Paris attacks plot

AP News
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Posted: May 13, 2016 6:44 AM

PARIS (AP) — A French newspaper says France changed its military strategy last year and started airstrikes in Syria because of concerns months before the attacks on Paris that ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud was plotting to target a concert and take hostages.

The report in Friday's Le Parisien, citing French and Belgian intelligence material and police recordings, lists repeated occasions when authorities allegedly failed to catch Abaaoud, even though he had been considered a major threat by several European intelligence services before the Nov. 13 attacks.

Abaaoud was killed in a police raid five days after the attack by Islamic State suicide bombers. Most of the 130 killed in the attack were hostages in the Bataclan concert hall.

The French president's office and Interior Ministry, which oversees intelligence services, did not respond to requests for comment.

Survivors and families of victims on Friday are marking six months since the attacks, which shook the nation and prompted a state of emergency that is still in place.

French authorities came under fire immediately after the attacks for intelligence missteps or gaps that failed to prevent the bloodshed. France had been under high alert since deadly shootings at newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market in January.

By September 2015, Le Parisien reported, authorities had identified links between Abaaoud and thwarted attacks on a high-speed train and a church, and suspected he was plotting a big attack.

The report quotes a witness as saying Abaaoud asked him to find a concert or other easy target with a lot of people, with the goal of seizing hostages and dying while fighting police.

France joined the U.S.-led coalition against IS in Iraq in 2014 but stayed out of Syria. President Francois Hollande changed tack in September 2015, launching Syria airstrikes to prevent what the government said were attack threats. Le Parisien said the decision was prompted by intelligence about Abaaoud, and that a Sept. 27 French airstrike on Deir ez-Zor in Syria was aimed at Abaaoud's training camp.