Credit via Reuters
BRUSSELS â?? When the family of Abdelhamid Abaaoud received word from Syria last fall that he had been killed fighting for the Islamic State, it rejoiced at what it took to be excellent news about a wayward son it had come to despise.
â??We are praying that Abdelhamid really is dead,â? his older sister, Yasmina, said at the time.
Their prayers â?? and the hopes of Western security officials â?? were not answered. Mr. Abaaoud, then 26, was in reality on his way back to Europe to meet secretly with Islamic extremists who shared his determination to spread mayhem. He has since been linked to a string of terrorist operations that culminated with Fridayâ??s attacks in Paris.
â??Of course, it is not joyous to make blood flow. But, from time to time, it is pleasant to see the blood of disbelievers,â? Mr. Abaaoud declared in a French-language recruiting video for the Islamic State released shortly before his supposed death.
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During his travels back to Europe at the end of last year, European security services picked up his trail and tracked his cellphone to Athens, according to a retired European military official. But they lost him, and soon after that he appeared to have made it back to Belgium, where he had grown up in a moderately successful family from Morocco.
At about the time Mr. Abaaoud began his return journey to Europe, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a leader with the Islamic State â?? he now has a $ 5 million bounty on his head, offered by the United States â?? made an impassioned plea for the killings of disbelievers. â??If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French, then rely on Allah and kill him in any manner or way however it may be,â? Mr. Adnani said in a recorded message.
Western intelligence agencies, worried that the Islamic State was planning to widen its carnage from the Middle East to Europe, tried to track a slow but steady trickle of fighters in