PARIS/ALENCON, France The voice that claimed Islamic State was responsible for the deadly Paris attacks is recognized to several in the small French provincial town of Alencon.
To loved ones, Fabien Clain was a “big teddy bear”, to neighbors he was polite and at the local mosque he was a fellow worshipper who came to pray.
To the French authorities, he was a veteran jihadi jailed as soon as in the previous for recruiting militant fighters and believed by them to have fled to Syria this year. They now believe he may have played a bigger function in the Nov. 13 attacks, the worst in France considering that Globe War Two.
In the on-line audio message detailing the assaults and claiming they have been orchestrated by Islamic State, Clain’s voice sounds haunting and triumphant. He warns the massacre “is only the starting of the storm”.
Investigators are now hunting at what Clain’s part may be and how it fits with that of Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, whom they believe to be a ringleader. Police are now asking whether Clain could have been far more important.
“There is no definitive situation, every little thing is becoming looked at,” a source close to the investigation said. A police source added: “It’s feasible. I would not be surprised.”
A judicial supply familiar with anti-terror instances went additional: “When you make a claim like that (for the attacks), you are in the operational ranks,” the supply stated.
Police are also seeking into Clain’s younger brother Jean-Michel, who authorities say sings on the 5-minute recording.
Investigators are unsure no matter whether the two brothers are now in Europe or Syria.
Originating from the French territory of La Reunion, the 37- and 35-year-old siblings have previously been linked to radical cells in France and Belgium, according to judicial sources.
Their names have appeared in investigations into planned attacks, like one particular foiled on churches in a Paris suburb this year and a preceding suspected plot on the Bataclan music hall, a single of the bloodiest scenes in the Nov. 13 carnage.
It is the elder Clain, who goes by the name Omar, who is the major concentrate for French authorities. Only six years ago, he was jailed for recruiting jihadis to fight in Iraq.
Clain converted to Islam in the late 1990s. Like his younger brother, he is believed by French police to have grow to be radicalised in the early 2000s when he lived in the southern city of Toulouse where he frequented radical networks and played a role in the militant recruitment “Artigat cell”. Members of that cell were believed to have been mentored by Salafist preacher Olivier Corel, known locally as the “white emir”.
A French national of Syrian origin, Corel, who lives in the Pyrenees village of Artigat, is also believed by French police and intelligence to have mentored gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed seven individuals in March 2012.
“It is possible (that the brothers ranked above Abaaoud for the Nov. 13 attacks) due to the fact they have been involved in radical movements for a long time,” a police source stated. “Abaaoud was still young when they had been currently component of the Artigat cell.”
As element of a safety operation targeting Islamists beneath the state of emergency imposed in France following the attacks, police raided Corel’s house this week, handing him a suspended jail sentence for possessing a hunting rifle. He is not believed to have any hyperlink to the Paris attacks.
TALENT FOR CONVERTING Other people
Born on Jan. 30, 1978 on France’s Indian Ocean island La Reunion, Fabien Clain moved as a child to Alencon in southern Normandy exactly where he grew up with his brother and two sisters.
He returned to La Reunion as a teenager ahead of ultimately coming back to Alencon, where he married a school pal, Mylene. The brothers converted their loved ones to Islam and when they moved to Toulouse, their wives wore the niqab veil over their faces, an uncommon sight in the city back then.
On Copains d’avant, a French social web site comparable to Friends Reunited, Clain’s profile lists him as living in “Toulouse, Egypt”. Judicial sources say each brothers studied Arabic in the north African nation in the mid 2000s.
It is unclear when the page was final updated. It also characteristics class photos, lists history and basketball as hobbies and the words “Nonetheless right here, thanks be to God”.
Clain also lived in Belgium, where French President Francois Hollande has mentioned the Nov. 13 attacks were organized, for about a year in 2004, according to a judicial source.
Back then, the older brother was currently suspected of being component of a group of radicals from France living in Belgium, the source mentioned.
Authorities started investigating the Artigat cell some ten years ago when Syrian police arrested two Frenchmen trying to cross the border into Iraq as component of an Al Qaeda cell.
A single member of the cell, Sabri Essid, who is Merah’s half brother, took component in “physical coaching sessions” with Clain, according to other members questioned by police, an additional judicial supply mentioned.
Both he and Clain had been sentenced to five years in jail in 2009. Jean-Michel was questioned for four days but released with no charges.
Also in 2009, French authorities opened an investigation into a plot to attack the Bataclan, exactly where the bloodiest of the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks took location. There was not adequate proof and the investigation was sooner or later dropped in September 2012.
But the Clain brothers’ name came up when the main suspect, a Belgian man of Tunisian origin, told police he was “very close” to them and that they had introduced him to a jihadi forum recognized for making use of tactics to avoid detection.
Another witness in the Artigat investigation told police Clain had “a correct talent for converting folks”, according to judicial sources.
Clain spent 3 years in jail. He was behind bars when Merah carried out his killing spree in March 2012. Judicial and police sources believe the two had robust ties.
Samia Maktouf, a lawyer for one of the Merah victim’s households, mentioned she had asked prosecutors to query guys linked to the Artigat cell, which includes Clain, but her request was not heeded.
“Everybody believed this was a sleeping cell,” she stated.
However in September 2012, police opened an investigation into Artigat members fleeing to Syria. It is nonetheless under way these days.
Essid reappeared in an Islamic State video this year in which a child shot dead a man.
“I Don’t KNOW HIM ANY More”
Banned in 22 French districts right after his release from jail, Clain returned to Alencon with his wife and kids in 2012.
At a small apartment complex on the town’s outskirts, a buzzer on the 3-storey constructing nonetheless bears his name. Inside, his letter box is complete.
Last week, police raided the Alencon flat of his cousin and restricted her movements, telling her to regularly verify in.
“When I heard the audio, I was so shocked,” the cousin, who spoke on condition her name not be employed, told Reuters. “I just don’t understand. I never know him any much more.”
Repeatedly saying she had no hyperlinks to the attacks, the cousin stated she had last seen Clain “at the start of the year”. Neighbors and worshippers at Alencon’s Mahabba mosque, which he attended from late 2012 to early 2015, mentioned they had seen him in February.
“I saw his wife in Could/June when a family members member died. Following that I did not see her,” the cousin mentioned.
“I was in touch as soon as for the kids and when she told me she was there (in Syria) … She said they were nicely.”
Mylene’s mother last saw her daughter in February in Alencon. According to a neighbor, police had seized Mylene’s passport and these of her young children but she nevertheless managed to evade French authorities. When her mother at some point noted her disappearance, she alerted police, but it was also late.
“She is devastated,” the neighbor stated.
Prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation in March into Clain’s disappearance and presumed flight to Syria. This was turned into an official judicial probe in June.
Jean-Michel is also believed to be in Syria with his wife and young children, a police source said, adding there were concerns regardless of whether he was even nevertheless alive, which means he could have recorded his singing beforehand.
Just before he disappeared, Clain sold halal goods such as soap and massage oils in Islamic shops, according to his cousin.
Standing in her doorway and usually in tears, she stated she hardly ever saw Clain and that she spent far more time with his wife and children, typically going shopping with each other or watching tv.
Their family members life was “very centered on religion”.
“He was so type, he would not even hurt a fly. He was like a massive teddy bear … usually smiling, laughing, joking about,” she said. Now she says she has reduce off make contact with.
Other neighbors of Clain paint the image of a robust but quiet neighbor, observed as typically in a robe as in casual clothing.
At the local Mahabba mosque, Clain taught Arabic to young young children for about two weeks, until a 2013 television report linked him to Merah airing their photographs.
“When that picture aired, people began distancing themselves,” Omar Sadequi, head of the Mahabba mosque association, mentioned.
“But you can’t cease folks coming to the mosque.”
Sadequi, who mentioned he had very small contact with Clain, added the mosque banned groupings on its territory.
At a lunchtime worship this week, the few worshippers there recalled seeing Clain, but added they did not actually speak to him.
“He had offered folks the impression that he had changed (following prison),” Sadequi mentioned. “But genuinely, he did not alter at all.”
(Chine Labbe reported for this post from Paris, Further reporting by Gérard Bon in Paris and Julie Rimbert in Toulouse, Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Editing by Andrew Callus and Timothy Heritage)
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