Suspected 'Mastermind' of Paris Attacks Identified

French officials: Abdel Hamid Abaaoud linked to previous terror plots.

ByABC News
November 16, 2015, 7:59 AM

— -- French authorities say they have identified a high-profile member of ISIS as the suspected “mastermind” of the Paris attacks, as police race to identify and capture anyone linked to the deaths of more than 120 people in the French capital.

French officials say Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who has been prominently featured in ISIS videos released online, played a key role in Friday’s deadly massacre. Abaaoud is reportedly from the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, the same neighborhood in Belgium home to at least one of the Paris suicide bombers.

Abaaoud was previously linked to smaller terror plots in Europe, and after a police raid in Belgium in which two other suspected extremists were killed in January, he told an ISIS magazine he was able to escape capture and slip into Syria. He’s believed to still be there, where one French official said he’s considered a “high-profile terrorism figure.” French media first named Abaaoud in connection to the Paris attack.

Authorities have indicated they suspect at least 10 people, including seven suicide bombers, had direct involvement in the attacks Friday night that claimed at least 129 lives.

French authorities are desperately hunting for a man identified as Salah Abdeslam, who police said Sunday was “involved” in the massacre and is on the loose. Early this morning, a law enforcement source told ABC News Abdeslam had been tracked to a building in Molenbeek, where he was surrounded by police, but later police found he wasn't there.

Overnight police carried out 150 raids and arrested 23 people in a new crackdown in the aftermath of the deadliest single incident in French history since the Second World War.

A number of the suicide bombers have been identified, including 29-year-old French citizen Ismail Mostefai, who was described as a petty criminal and who French authorities identified as a potential radical years ago, though he was never charged with a serious crime. Another of the bombers appears to have used a Syrian passport and a fake name to slip into Europe disguised as a refugee. Greek authorities released a report over the weekend saying the man came on a boat with nearly 200 other people from Turkey to the Greek island of Leros in early October. European authorities say he eventually made his way through the Balkans and into Austria before disappearing.

Over the weekend, U.S. officials told ABC News ISIS has created a new cell in its organization devoted to attacking the West and the U.S.

Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to the White House and now an ABC News consultant, said the new unit reflected ISIS's new focus on "complicated, commanded and controlled multi-actor" attacks, as opposed to earlier ISIS-linked attacks in the West, which were typically carried out by so-called lone wolves who were simply "inspired" by ISIS to violence.

Today a video was released by ISIS supporters in which a purported member of the group threatens Washington, D.C. and several other countries.

[Correction: A previous version of this report said "at least two" of the suicide bombers in Paris were from Molenbeek. Officials said two of the Paris attackers were from Brussels, but only named one as being from Molenbeek. Additionally, the previous version also said that two policemen were killed in the incident in January. In fact, two suspected extremists were killed.