Abdelhamid Abaaoud—a suspected organizer of ISIS’s Paris attacks, whom French authorities say died on Wednesday in a police raid—appears to have fit the kind of profile that European counterterrorism officials fear: raised in Europe by not especially religious parents; early dabbling in petty crime; then an abrupt fixation on fundamentalist Sunni Islam and a turn to terror, bringing about scores of deaths on European soil.
Abaaoud’s father was born in Morocco but reportedly moved to Belgium in 1975, where he found decent success as a clothier in Molenbeek, the predominantly Muslim borough of Brussels that has come under scrutiny this week as a major source of jihadists. (Not much seems to be known about his mother.) Abaaoud was born in 1987, and The New York Times tartly notes that “despite his subsequent denunciations of the mistreatment suffered by Muslims in Europe, he enjoyed privileges available to few immigrants, including admission to an exclusive Catholic school, Collège Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, in an upscale residential district of Brussels.”
But he was thrown out of that school, either for poor grades or bad behavior. Like many eventual jihadists, he turned to criminal activities and befriended Ibrahim Abdeslam, one of the attackers in Paris on Friday, and Ibrahim’s brother Salah, who is still being hunted. Abaaoud was briefly imprisoned and apparently hung around bars known for attracting drug dealers. He suddenly became very religious and moved to Syria in early 2014, reportedly to his family’s surprise and dismay. “All my life I have seen the blood of Muslims flow,” he said in a video made in Aleppo, Syria, where he joined ISIS. “I pray that God breaks the backs of those who oppose him.”