Security officials are warning that threats remain despite the killing of the mastermind of last week’s Paris attacks by Islamic extremists.
Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged planner of the Nov. 13 carnage, was killed after police stormed an apartment in a French suburb.
Belgian officials said his death “removed the spier in the web” but warned that the threat of further attacks has not passed, Reuters reports.
Abaaoud was a petty criminal who went to fight in Syria in 2013 and was believed to have recruited similar young men from immigrant families in his native Brussels district of Molenbeek and elsewhere in Belgium and France.
“The spider in the web is no longer a danger,” Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said, calling it a “breakthrough”.
Security services were closing in on Abaaoud’s cells as the government announced new laws to crack down on Islamists after sharp criticism from France that Belgium was lax in dealing with the biggest concentration of Syria-linked radicals in Europe.
“The net is closing further around the different command cells which started in Verviers,” Geens told public television, referring to the eastern town where Abaaoud, 28, had boasted of evading capture in January when police killed two of his associates from Molenbeek in a raid on a safe house.
“Islamic State has now lost a vital link for attacks in this region,” Rik Coolsaet, professor at Ghent University, said.
He said Abaaoud, who became a social media celebrity while in Syria and boasted of crossing back and forth across frontiers, was linked to numerous attacks in Europe.
These include the shooting of people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum, an attack on a Paris suburban church and an attempt to mow down passengers on a Brussels-Paris express train, as well as the multiple assaults in Paris on Friday that killed 129.
With a suspected key accomplice and former prison cellmate, Salah Abdeslam, 26, still unaccounted for — and close to a 1,000 Belgians with Syrian connections on a core watch list of potential militants — there was caution about the future.
“Maybe it will take a while to set up a cell or a network,” said Rolf Tophoven of Germany’s Institute of Crisis Prevention in Essen. “But there are enough people who can take his place in some way … To put it in medical terms, a tumour has been removed but I’m sure that the cancer will continue to spread.”
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