Monday, November 23, 2015

#ParisAttacks Show Cracks in France’s Counterterrorism Effort

French law-enforcement authorities had Hasna Aït Boulahcen in sight long before she surfaced as a suspected accomplice in the Paris terror attacks and died during a police raid. Her phone had been tapped as part of an unrelated drug-trafficking investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.

It wasn’t until days after the Nov. 13 attacks that French authorities learned that Ms. Aït Boulahcen was the cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a notorious Islamic State operative suspected of directing the terror spree that killed 130, the people familiar with the matter said.

That crucial piece of intelligence, supplied by Morocco, allowed French counterterrorism investigators to track Mr. Abaaoud to an apartment building in a Paris suburb, where Mr. Abaaoud, Ms. Aït Boulahcen and a third person, still unidentified, were killed Wednesday in a two-hour battle with police.

But the late discovery of Mr. Abaaoud’s connection with Ms. Aït Boulahcen has left French investigators stunned, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Abaaoud, a militant sought for months by French authorities, had a possible accomplice in Paris right under their nose.

“No need to fool ourselves,” a French government official said. “What we have in front of us is a complete failure.”

The intelligence breakdown comes 10 months after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher store revealed a French security operation hobbled by communication troubles among agencies.

As French authorities try again to analyze the cracks in their counterterrorism bulwark, French officials said they needed to better cooperate with allies while improving their capacity to process a welter of information.

The revelation that France was blind to the blood ties between the 28-year-old Mr. Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, and Ms. Aït Boulahcen, age 26, is particularly vexing for France, which has been trying to repair its security relationship with Morocco...
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