Dead Brussels gunman sought ISIS suicide mission
Lori Hinnant and Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 19, 2016 8:56AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 19, 2016 11:58AM EDT
PARIS -- The Algerian gunman newly linked to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris joined the Islamic State group in 2014 and told the extremists he wanted to die as a suicide bomber, bypassing the choice to be a fighter. He was instead shot to death by a police sniper in the raid that led authorities to Europe's most wanted fugitive.
Previously unknown to authorities, Mohamed Belkaid died Tuesday in the apartment, firing on police while accomplices fled.
Salah Abdeslam, the fugitive from the Nov. 13 attacks, had left behind a fingerprint. Belkaid's Kalashnikov assault rifle was found near his body along with an Islamic State flag.
According to documents given to The Associated Press by the Syrian opposition news site Zaman al-Wasl, Belkaid told the extremists he had travelled throughout Europe -- including to Spain, Germany and France -- and listed his residence as Sweden. He provided a passport to the group and a phone number for a close relative, which on Friday rang as a non-functioning line. Phone directories in Sweden have a man named Mohamed Aziz Belkaid listed in Marsta, a northern Stockholm suburb. Calls to the listed numbers were not answered and Swedish authorities could not be reached for comment.
In the documents, he said he had no experience as a jihadi and no one to vouch for him as he crossed the border on April 19, 2014. Islamic State prizes the growth of its networks abroad, and having a sponsor is seen as both a sign of credibility and a way to measure the extent of its reach.
Belkaid listed his occupation as a candy maker.
German intelligence authorities say they also have a copy of some of the same documents as the Syrian opposition site, and that they are believed to be authentic.
Belkaid's "application" to the Islamic State group and his subsequent ties to the Nov. 13 attackers, many of whom met and trained together in Syria, highlights the difficulty in uncovering the extent of the plot that led to 130 deaths in Paris. In two years, Belkaid transformed from an aspiring jihadi into a Kalashnikov-toting fighter linked to a cell that carried out the deadliest attack in France since World War II.
"We know that there is a certain number of other people identified and at large who probably participated in the Paris attacks. There are others we think could go into action through the existence of other cells in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe. So the threat remains important and we're going to continue the investigations," said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders.
French President Francois Hollande said Friday that more people were involved in the attacks than initially thought, and predicted more arrests would follow that of Abdeslam and four others. In a further sign of the widening net, Interpol warned members to be vigilant for more accomplices fleeing now that Abdeslam is in custody -- and has information desperately sought by investigators trying to learn about the Nov. 13 attacks and head off new ones.
Swedish media reported that Belkaid married a Swedish-born wife 16 years his elder and got his residency permit in 2011. Media also said he left Sweden in late 2013 or early 2014; she died later that year.
Swedish media said the man had convictions for petty crimes, including thefts.
On Friday, Belgian prosecutors said Belkaid was "most probably" an accomplice of Abdeslam and had been using a fake Belgian ID card in the name of Samir Bouzid. A man using that ID was one of two men seen with Abdeslam in a rental car on the Hungarian-Austrian border in September.
The same fake ID was used on Nov. 17 to transfer 750 euros to the cousin of Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the suspected ringleader of the attack. Both Hasna Ait Boulahcen and Abbaoud died in a police siege of the apartment paid for by that transfer, which was destroyed by a suicide attacker holed up with the two.
Belkaid was killed Tuesday by a police sniper in Brussels. A Kalashnikov assault rifle was found by his body, as well as a book on Salafism, an ultraconservative strain of Islam. Elsewhere in the apartment, police found an Islamic State banner as well as 11 Kalashnikov loaders and a large quantity of ammunition, the prosecutor said.