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PARIS, France – Nine days after the Paris attacks, the suspected ringleader has been killed in a hail of bullets and four of the seven gunmen and suicide bombers have been identified, but many questions remain unanswered.
The suspected mastermind, wanted Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed along with 26-year-old woman, Hasna Aitboulahcen, in a ferocious post-attacks raid by police Wednesday on their hideout in a northern Paris suburb.
French officials are working to identify a third person, believed to be a male, who also died in the police raid.
One of the alleged attackers of the deadly November 13 attacks, Salah Abdeslam, remains the target of an international manhunt.
Like his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in a bar the night of the attacks, Salah played a key logistical role in the wave of terror that left 130 people dead.
He was spirited away from Paris to Belgium after the November 13 massacre by 2 other men who were later arrested and charged there.
Who is Salah Abdeslam?
Among the many questions hanging, few are more puzzling than the fate and role of Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam.
His brother Brahim, like five other assailants, detonated an explosives vest the Friday night of the attacks.
A seventh jihadist was shot by police as they stormed the Bataclan music venue. Salah however remains at large.
Investigators believe he may have dropped off the 3 bombers at the Stade de France stadium where President Francois Hollande was watching a football match between France and Germany.
They also think he may have been planning to carry out another attack in the 18th district of northern Paris.
The Obs news website reports that the two men held in Belgium told investigators that they found him in a state of shock and wearing an explosives vest when they came to spirit him out.
His brother Mohamed Abdeslam on Sunday told RTBF television he thought Salah decided at the very last moment not to go through with his attack.
Salah and his brother Brahim have been described as “big drinkers and big smokers” by friends who knew them from a bar they ran in Brussels that was shut down by authorities a few weeks ago.
A police document obtained by Agence France-Presse suggests it was shut down because police believed customers were smoking marijuana there.
The brothers grew up in the Brussels area of Molenbeek, a hotbed of Islamist extremism in Europe.
Both had links to Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader of the attacks, who also lived in Molenbeek.
Where was Abaaoud during the attacks?
The Belgian jihadist who allegedly planned the bloodshed has been seen in CCTV footage at a Metro station in eastern Paris at around 10:15 pm (2115 GMT), less than an hour after gunmen began an assault in the city center, a police source said.
Of Moroccan origin, Abaaoud had spent time alongside Islamic State extremists in Syria and was interviewed by the group’s magazine Dabiq.
His presence in Europe has raised serious questions about the work of intelligence services as he had been under an international arrest warrant issued by Belgium, where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July. It was widely believed he was still in Syria.
So far, four of the gunmen and suicide bombers who carried out the attacks have been named.
On Friday, prosecutors said two of the men who detonated explosives vests outside the stadium had entered Europe through Greece on the same day in October, pretending to be refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
Investigators have not yet released the identity of those two men. A Syrian passport in the name of Ahmad Al Mohammad was found next to one of them but it is believed it could have belonged to a dead Syrian soldier. The third assailant at the Bataclan concert hall, where dozens were killed, has also not been identified.
Separately, investigators recovered three bodies following Wednesday’s raid that killed Abaaoud, 28, and Aitboulahcen, a French woman of Moroccan origin.
On Friday police clarified that they had discovered a third body and that Aitboulahcen had not blown herself up, as previously thought.
So who was the third person who detonated an explosives belt during the police raid? Could it be that of the suspected missing gunman Abdeslam?
Investigators are still examining body parts to try to find out. – Serene Assir, AFP/Rappler.com