State Department accuses Abdelilah Himich of creating a European terrorist fighter cell
It says he was reportedly involved in the planning of ISIS attacks on Paris and Brussels
The US government has identified a suspect believed to have been involved in the planning of ISIS attacks that rocked the French capital a year ago and Brussels, Belgium, in March.
Abdelilah Himich, also known as Abu Sulayman al-Faransi, was named in a US State Department statement Tuesday announcing the designation of three men as terrorists.
Himich is a “senior foreign terrorist fighter and external operations figure” for ISIS, according to the statement.
He is accused of creating a “European foreign terrorist fighter cell” in 2015 called the Tariq Ibn Ziyad Battalion that at one time numbered as many as 300 people and has provided operatives for ISIS attacks in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
“Himich was also reportedly involved in the planning of ISIL’s November 2015 Paris attacks and March 2016 Brussels attacks,” the statement said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
The series of coordinated gun and bomb attacks in Paris last year killed 130 people, 90 of them at a concert at the Bataclan venue and the others at a restaurant, two cafes and a sports stadium.
Events were held this month to commemorate the victims, including a performance by musician Sting to reopen the Bataclan.
A source close to the investigation into the Paris attacks told CNN last year that a surviving concertgoer from the Bataclan told investigators that a gunman asked another of the attackers whether he was going to call an individual called “Souleymane” as the attack was ongoing. But it’s not known whether this could have been a reference to the alias used by Himrich, or to another ISIS member.
Thirty-two people were killed and more than 300 were injured March 22 when three suicide bombers blew themselves up at the Brussels airport and on the city’s metro.
Investigators have long said the Paris and Brussels attacks were planned and carried out by the same ISIS network. Two suspects in the attacks are in French custody.
A French intelligence source told CNN earlier this month that investigators had identified the suspected coordinator of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks as a man named Oussama Atar, who remains at large.
The other two men designated in the State Department release were Abdullah Ahmed al-Meshedani and Basil Hassan.
The former is described as an ISIS leader “who manages arriving foreign terrorist fighters, handles guesthouses for them, and transports suicide bombers” on behalf of ISIS. He’s also reportedly an adviser to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Hassan is said to be an “external operations plotter” who in 2013 was accused of shooting Danish author and journalist Lars Hedegaard. After his arrest in Turkey in 2014, Hassan was released as part of an alleged exchange for 49 hostages held by ISIS, the State Department said, and is believed to have traveled to Syria to join the terror group.
CNN’s Laura Koran contributed to this report.