France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has condemned the "failings" of the European system after reports suggested that Islamic State (Isis) jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud was killed in raids on 18 November in Saint-Denis.
According to the Washington Post, two "senior European intelligence officials" confirmed the death of the alleged mastermind behind the 13 November Paris attacks after authorities identified the Belgian-born IS commander as the target of the dawn raid on the Parisian suburb.
"If Abaaoud could move from Syria to France, that means there are flaws in the whole European system," French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday (19 November). "Then, we'll have to be much, much firmer and tighter."
Abaaoud was believed to have fled Europe through Greece as the net of international intelligence agencies closed around him. The 27-year-old IS militant boasted in an interview with Islamic State's Dabiq magazine in February that he had been able to leave Europe and evade security forces.
If he was speaking in Syria at the time of the interview, as had been assumed, confirmation from French officials that they had targeted Abaaoud would indicate that he was still able to sneak into Europe for a second time despite being sentenced in absentia to 20 years in Belgium for recruiting for IS in Syria and running terror networks.
The minister insisted there were "still too many ifs", referring to the "body completely shredded" of one of the two people who died during the Saint-Denis raid who has not yet been confirmed by French officials.
Abaaoud, blooded in Syria fighting against Assad forces, has been identified by various European police forces as being behind a string of botched terrorist attacks on the continent, including a plot to kill police officers in Verviers in January and the thwarted attacks on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris in April.
'Isis are monsters'
Speaking to France Info, Fabius asked for international cooperation to fight against Isis, and declared the terrorist organisation could be quashed. "They are monsters, (and) they are 30,000. We must all unite to defeat them," he said, highlighting the need for a "total determination" to strike the jihadists.
Fabius repeated France would be prepared to compromise with Russia's Vladimir Putin over Syria: "If we add the forces from the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain and others (...) we need, from time to time, go back to basics.
He added: "These people (IS) want to destroy us. They want that all those, who are not like them or under their power, to be dead. And that's why we must all unite and put aside the bickering of secondary importance between politicians."
France and Russia killed at least 33 IS militants over 72 hours in air strikes on weapons depots, barracks, and checkpoints in the jihadist group's Syrian base of operations, Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP on Wednesday.
Russian warships and missiles have been pounding IS targets with bombs, after Russian authorities confirmed that a terrorist bomb brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai peninsula on 31 October, with Russian President Vladimir Putin pledging revenge for the attack.
Along with much stricter security checks across Europe, the French government also called for the use of PNR data files (see box) on passengers that are required before any booking can be made.
What is a PNR file?
The passenger name record (PNR) contains the itinerary for a passenger, or a group of passengers. Details kept include:
- Passenger's name.
- Contact details for the travel agent/airline office.
- Ticketing details (ticket number or reference).
- Itinerary of at least one segment, which must be the same for all passengers listed.
- Name of the person making the booking.
Airlines are also required to provide further information to assist investigators tracing criminals or terrorists. Details may include: