Oussama Atar

Oussama Atar is a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen suspected of coordinating the deadly November 2015 attacks in Paris on behalf of ISIS.“Officials name possible coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks as Oussama Atar,” CBS News, November 8, 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/officials-name-possible-coordinator-paris-brussels-attacks-oussama-atar/. In early November 2016, a French judicial official and a security official confirmed that Atar was the real name of “Abu Ahmed,” the ISIS figure suspected by law enforcement of masterminding the November 2015 Paris attacks.Associated Press, “Authorities ID possible organizer of Paris, Brussels attacks,” Yahoo News, November 8, 2016, http://sports.yahoo.com/news/authorities-id-possible-organizer-paris-brussels-attacks-160254593.html. European authorities have also linked Atar to the March 2016 attacks in Brussels.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/.

According to Agence France-Presse, a suspected extremist arrested in Austria in December 2015 said that Atar—identified by the extremist as “Abu Ahmed”—had sent him to participate in the Paris attacks.“Investigators name alleged planner of Paris, Brussels attacks,” Deutsche Welle, November 9, 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/investigators-name-alleged-planner-of-paris-brussels-attacks/a-36316533. According to European counterterrorism officials, suspects in the Paris attacks identified “Abu Ahmed” as their emir (leader) of the Paris cell, saying that he “discussed targets, strategy and bomb-making techniques from Syria via encrypted channels with survivors of the terrorist cell who were hiding in Brussels.”Sebastian Rotella, “U.S. Identifies Key Player in ISIS Attacks on Europe,” ProPublica, October 19, 2016, https://www.propublica.org/article/us-identifies-key-player-in-isis-attacks-on-europe.

Belgian authorities reportedly suspected that Atar was in the country in August 2016. Atar allegedly fled Belgium after information leaked to the media that Belgian Special Forces were searching for him. Belgian officials have described Atar as “the highest ranking ISIS operative” from the Brussels area.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/.

Atar is the cousin of brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, two suicide bombers who killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 300 in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2016.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/. French authorities reportedly believe that Atar helped radicalize at least one of the El Bakraoui brothers, and that Atar coordinated the attacks from Syria. Authorities reportedly found proof on a computer belonging to one of the Bakraoui brothers connecting Atar to the Paris and Brussels attacks.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/.

Authorities have described Atar as an “ISIS original.”Henry Samuel, “Paris and Brussels terror attacks were coordinated by Syria-based jihadist called Oussama Atar, French and Belgian intelligence believe,” Telegraph (London), November 8, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/08/paris-and-brussels-terror-attacks-were-coordinated-by-syria-base/. Atar reportedly first traveled to Iraq and Syria in 2002.Henry Samuel, “Paris and Brussels terror attacks were coordinated by Syria-based jihadist called Oussama Atar, French and Belgian intelligence believe,” Telegraph (London), November 8, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/08/paris-and-brussels-terror-attacks-were-coordinated-by-syria-base/. In February 2005, Atar was arrested in Ramadi, Iraq. Two years later, an Iraqi court convicted Atar on charges of illegally entering the country and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/; “Osama Atar, one of the presumed brains of the attacks of Brussels, sought by the Belgian authorities,” Le Monde (Paris), August 17, 2016, http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2016/08/17/oussama-atar-le-cousin-des-kamikazes-des-attentats-de-bruxelles-activement-recherche-par-les-autorites-belges_4984153_3214.html. Atar then reportedly spent time in multiple Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, where he reportedly met future ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/. While in Iraq’s al-Rusafa Prison in 2010, Atar’s lawyer launched a public campaign with the help of various NGOs to have Atar receive immediate medical care. According to Amnesty International, prison authorities had told the Belgian embassy that Atar had a tumor in his kidney and required immediate surgery. The Red Cross later discovered that Atar had a colon infection, not cancer.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/.

Atar was released from prison in September 2012 and returned to Belgium. According to Atar’s lawyer at the time, Vincent Lurquin, Belgian authorities were not as concerned by ISIS at that time and “left [Atar] by himself” after a routine interrogation.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/. After news broke of Atar’s possible connection to the Paris attacks, Lurquin told media outlets that he did not know what had become of his former client.“Osama Atar, one of the presumed brains of the attacks of Brussels, sought by the Belgian authorities,” Le Monde (Paris), August 17, 2016, http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2016/08/17/oussama-atar-le-cousin-des-kamikazes-des-attentats-de-bruxelles-activement-recherche-par-les-autorites-belges_4984153_3214.html.

As of November 2016, Atar reportedly remained at large in Syria, according to media reports.Margot Haddad, Erin McLaughlin, and Tim Hume, “France identifies suspected coordinator of Paris, Brussels attacks,” CNN, November 8, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/europe/paris-brussels-attacks-suspected-coordinator/.

 
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On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers targeted members of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority who were demonstrating in Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 97 people and injured 260 others. 

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