Paris attacks mastermind linked to UK hate preachers

Published: 22 November, 2015 17:44 IST | Agencies |

The mastermind of the Paris attacks was part of a network linked to at least six Islamist hate preachers from Britain, a media report said in London today

London: The mastermind of the Paris attacks was part of a network linked to at least six Islamist hate preachers from Britain, a media report said here today.

Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 28, is said to be associated with a banned outfit called 'Sharia4Belgium' which has sent more than 50 fighters from his native Belgium to join the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Syria.

The network included a man from Luton who later became an IS bomb-maker, the 'Sunday Times' reported following the deadly November 13 attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people.

The group was created in 2010 by Fouad Belkacem, a convicted burglar, after he travelled to London to seek inspiration from a radical British cleric.

The cleric, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has described Belkacem as a "dear friend" and told how he was asked to help "start something in Belgium", the report said.

Once established, Sharia4Belgium quickly began recruiting impressionable young men from cities such as Antwerp and Brussels, the home of Abaaoud and at least three other Paris attackers who were trained by IS.

Members of the group approached Omar Bakri Muhammad, the former London-based preacher known as the "Tottenham Ayatollah" while he was living in exile in Lebanon to help facilitate access to jihadists in Syria.

Bakri, who was banned from Britain in 2005, was later jailed for terrorism-related offences in Lebanon.

Footage seen by the 'Sunday Times' reveals that in 2013 at least three other extremists from the UK travelled together to Belgium to help Belkacem promote 'sharia' on the streets.

They included Abu Rahin Aziz, a father-of-two from Luton and former acolyte of Bakri. Aziz fled Britain last year while on bail for assault and travelled to Syria.

He lived in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, where he is believed to have met Abaaoud and learnt bomb-making skills.

Aziz, 32, who frequently used Twitter to threaten attacks against Britain and America, was killed by a US drone strike in July.

The two other British men seen in the footage helping Belkacem spread his extreme views in Belgium in 2013 are Asfor Ali and Saiful Islam.

Ali, 28, is a former London Underground worker who was jailed last year after he was found in possession of bomb-making instructions and al-Qaeda propaganda. Saiful Islam is a radical preacher from Luton who has praised slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and warned of terror attacks in Britain.

A fourth extremist from the UK, who cannot be named for legal reasons, travelled to Belgium in 2012 to initiate Sharia4Belgium members in "military tactics".

Some 44 other Sharia4Belgium members were convicted at the same time by a court in Antwerp.

However, the vast majority of the defendants had to be sentenced in their absence as they were fighting, or had been killed, in Syria.

More than 500 Belgians have travelled to Syria and Iraq tojoin jihadists - the highest proportion per head of population of any western nation.

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