Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a possible central figure involved in planning attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris on Friday, bragged in an interview earlier this year about plotting terrorist attacks against the West and evading Belgian authorities, according to Vocativ.
“I was able to leave … despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies,” he told the magazine, referring to his ability to get out of Belgium. “All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence."
Abaaoud added: “My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”
European authorities believe the Belgian — the son of Moroccan immigrants — fought for the Islamic State in Syria and goes by the nickname Abu Umar al-Baljiki, according to Vocativ.
Abaaoud, a graduate of one of Brussels’s most prestigious high schools, appeared to move higher in the Islamic State ranks over the years and made no secret of his intentions to strike in Europe, the Associated Press reported.
The Guardian reported that he appeared on authorities' radars after he was spotted in an Islamic State video that showed him driving a vehicle carrying mutilated bodies to a mass grave.
French officials told the AP that Abaaoud is suspected to have ties to other thwarted attacks, including one in which a man opened fire on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train in August but was subdued by three American travelers.
Abaaoud was also linked to a terrorist cell that planned to kill Belgian police officers in the town of Verviers, according to the Guardian. Police killed two suspected plotters during a January raid that triggered a gun battle, the newspaper reported.
In his interview with Dabiq — which included photos of Abaaoud posing with an Islamic State flag and the Koran — the militant said he and two other men spent months trying to penetrate European borders before managing to arrive in Belgium.
Their goal, he told the magazine: “Terrorise the crusaders waging war against the Muslims.”
“We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders," he said, according to Dabiq. "All of this was facilitated for us by Allah. There is no might nor power except by him.”
Discussing the raid that halted those plans, Abaaoud said police arrived with more than 150 French and Belgian soldiers from special forces units. Of his co-conspirators, he said that “both brothers were blessed with shahādah [martyrdom], which is what they had desired for so long.”
Reflecting on his time on the run from Belgian authorities, Abaaoud told the magazine that he narrowly escaped capture, according to the Guardian.
“I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!” he said. “This was nothing but a gift from Allah.”
The rebel fighter was tried in absentia by a Belgian court and sentenced to 20 years in prison for recruiting on behalf of the Islamic State in Syria, the Guardian reported.
During an appearance on the French radio station RTL, a French official described Abaaoud as "one of the most active" Islamic State executioners in Syria, according to USA Today.