Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and his French counterpart Francois Hollande leave after a news conference after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. French President Francois Hollande is in Moscow on Thursday to push for a stronger coalition against Islamic State militants in Syria, trying to unite France, the U.S. and Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, pool)
PARIS (AP) — The latest developments regarding the war in Syria. All times local.
France's foreign minister says destroying the Islamic State group's Raqqa headquarters is the main objective of the international military campaign.
In an interview with RTL radio on Friday, Laurent Fabius said "neutralizing and eradicating Daesh" is an objective that all countries agree upon, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. He spoke after a week of intense diplomacy capped by the French president's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt, as well as the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Fabius said Putin agreed on the need to focus international efforts against the extremist group and France is drawing up a map of other, moderate groups, to protect them from warplanes.
He also said the international coalition is focusing on oil convoys from the group's territory, which provide a crucial source of income. He said some of the trucks head toward Turkey, and France believes Syrian leader Bashar Assad is also a buyer.
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BOBIGNY, France—Three days before the attacks that ripped through Paris, Djazira Boulanger handed the keys to her row house, across the street from a kindergarten, to a guest who had booked it over the website Homelidays.com. His name was Brahim Abdeslam.
She didn’t know that Mr. Abdeslam was a central figure in plotting the deadly assault. As Ms. Boulanger tended to her two young children at home, authorities say Mr. Abdeslam and a band of cohorts were down the street preparing weapons for an assault on the Stade de France and Paris’s nightlife district.
“Did I suspect something was wrong? Not at all,” Ms. Boulanger said.
A day after he checked in, Mr. Abdeslam’s younger brother, Salah, pulled up to the roadside hotel Appart’City on the southern outskirts of Paris, according to staff, to claim reservations he made on Booking.com—also under his own name. The rooms were for another set of gunmen in the attacks: those assigned to mow down spectators inside the Bataclan concert hall.
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Prosecutors suspect the brothers were preparing the logistics for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged architect of the massacres, to arrive in Paris and swiftly mount one of the deadliest terror attacks in French history. Brahim would later blow himself up during the attacks, while Salah is now the target of an international manhunt.
Mr. Abaaoud was the kind of adversary France had dreaded since the Syrian conflict began drawing European nationals in droves. Mr. Abaaoud—who would die several days after the Paris attacks in a police raid—drew on his experience as a battlefield logistical officer in Syria to launch a guerrilla-style ambush on unarmed civilians in the French capital.
The account emerging from French officials, witnesses and those who interacted with the suspected terrorists shows how the operation hinged on Mr. Abaaoud’s ability to use the tools of everyday modern life to lay the groundwork for the massacre. The ease with which he and his teams moved—all while avoiding detection by France’s security apparatus—suggests the challenges in identifying would-be terrorists and preventing further attacks in the fluid, digital and transnational world of today, especially when they are European citizens.
The array of car rentals, cellphones and online lodging reservations allowed Mr. Abaaoud to organize his militants as separate cells to ensure the plot wouldn’t unravel if one of the teams was compromised. Likewise, Mr. Abaaoud exploited Europe’s porous border system, sneaking stadium bombers into the continent amid the crush of Syrian refugees washing over Greece and tapping European nationals who could wield their own passports to move freely about the region.
Abaaoud’s Terrorist Links
Mr. Abaaoud was a native of Molenbeek, a heavily Muslim, working-class neighborhood of Brussels. In 2010, he and Salah Abdeslam, who had lived a few blocks away, had been convicted of breaking into a garage. The men served a prison sentence together.
By 2013, Mr. Abaaoud had become a more observant Muslim, growing out his beard, said Alexandre Chateau, his lawyer. The next January, he took off to northern Syria with his 13-year-old brother, Younes, according to his parents’ lawyer. German authorities flagged Mr. Abaaoud’s departure at Cologne-Bonn airport for Turkey, Europe’s gateway to Syria, because he was on an EU watch list. The entry, however, didn’t direct authorities to detain him.
Paris Attacks: The Remaining Unknowns
In Syria, Mr. Abaaoud rose quickly as a recruiter of European fighters, according to French officials. He also honed a reputation for logistical prowess as the Islamic State official in charge of supplies for fighters in operations in Syria’s oil-rich province of Deir Ezzour, according to an Islamic State fighter who met Mr. Abaaoud in that role. He was in charge of procuring weapons and transport for front-line fighters, the fighter said.
In January 2015, Mr. Abaaoud surfaced in Athens, where he made a flurry of phone calls to Belgium, according to people familiar with the matter. In a purported interview with Islamic State’s in-house magazine Dabiq in February, Mr. Abaaoud said he was stockpiling a cache of automatic weapons at the time. Investigators suspect the purpose of the weaponry was to arm the crew of operatives he was assembling to carry out attacks on Europe.
Salah Abdeslam, Mr. Abaaoud’s acquaintance, handled logistics, traveling to the Italian port of Bari in early August where he and another man took a ferry to Patras, Greece, Italian officials said. “We are talking about citizens with regular European passports and with the right to travel freely,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.
Mr. Abaaoud also tapped two French nationals who had both recently spent time in Syria: Samy Amimour, a former Paris bus driver, and Omar Ismail Mostefai, a petty criminal who had been on a watch list for radicalization since 2010. Both were assigned to shoot up the Bataclan concert hall.
For the planned suicide bombing at the Stade de France, Mr. Abaaoud turned to Bilal Hadfi, a French national who had run off to fight in Syria as a teenager. Mr. Hadfi had since returned to Europe without telling his parents, who wondered if he had died fighting in Syria.
The two other stadium bombers arrived in Europe taking a more clandestine route. On Oct. 3, two men arrived on the Greek island of Leros, blending in with the scores of refugees that were washing up on Greece’s shores. One of the men carried a phony passport bearing the name Ahmad Almohammad. Officials haven’t identified the two men.
Days earlier, the Abdeslam brothers had sold Les Beguines, a bar in Molenbeek known for brawling and drug use, according to public records.
The brothers, acting as the group’s bank, started spending on logistics in Brussels and Paris. With more than nine people involved in the operation, they faced a transportation and housing challenge. In addition to a Seat-brand car, Salah Abdeslam rented a Volkswagen VLKAY 4.69 % and a Renault from two different rental agencies in Brussels. Rental companies in Belgium don’t vet clients as long as their driver’s license, government identification and credit cards are valid.
As the terrorists came together, the Abdeslam brothers arranged lodgings in the dilapidated outskirts of Paris. The brothers shuttled back and forth across a Franco-Belgian border that, under European Union treaties, is little more than a line on the map.
On Nov. 10, they arrived at Ms. Boulanger’s row house in the northeastern suburb of Bobigny, a 20-minute drive from the heart of Paris. The place came equipped with bunk-beds that easily accommodated the six operatives planning to attack the Stade de France and the capital’s busy nightlife district.
Across town, the Appart’City hotel was well-suited to allow the Bataclan team to move about without bringing attention to themselves. On Nov. 11, Salah Abdeslam checked into rooms 311 and 312 at the end of a hallway at the Appart’City hotel, where clients have access to a secondary stairwell that leads directly to a parking lot without ever passing the front desk. The two-star hotel doesn’t require guests to register their cars to use the parking lot. Nor does it have security cameras.
Salah Abdeslam didn’t stay in France for long. He raced back to Belgium to collect the attackers, according to video footage of him at a gas station outside Paris and, hours later, in Brussels. In the predawn hours of Nov. 12, a convoy of three cars left Brussels, setting a course for Paris.
On Friday, Nov. 13, Mr. Abaaoud’s terror cells launched the attacks. At 7:40 p.m. Messrs. Mostefai, Amimour and a third unidentified man steered the Volkswagen hatchback out of the Appart’City bound for the Bataclan concert hall.
On the other side of Paris, the men in Bobigny piled into two cars with different destinations. The black Seat, according to the Paris prosecutor, was carrying Mr. Abaaoud. The hatchback left the suburb at 8:38 p.m., ferrying the Belgian Islamic State operative and two other men to an area filled with restaurants and bars in the 10th and 11th districts of Paris, where they began a shooting spree.
The Renault wasn’t going nearly as far. Investigators believe Salah Abdeslam drove a team of three suicide bombers to the gates of a packed Stade de France, where French President François Hollande and 80,000 other fans were sitting down to a match between the French and German national soccer teams.
As explosions and gunfire began to ring out across the city, the Volkswagen crept up to the Bataclan. Before storming in, one militant sent a text message that investigators would later recover from a phone discarded near the theater. “We’re going for it,” the message read. “It’s starting.”
An hour after Mr. Abaaoud finished shooting up restaurants, he emerged from a metro station in the 12th district, according to data police pulled from his cellphone. He headed west toward the sound of sirens, his path zigzagging as he returned to the scene of his crimes.
For two hours after the massacre ended, prosecutors say, Mr. Abaaoud surveyed his handiwork, at one point blending in with panicked crowds and bloodied victims streaming from the Bataclan. Then, at 12:28 a.m., he went dark.
—Matthew Dalton, Inti Landauro, Noemie Bisserbe, Mohammad Nour Alakraa, Matt Bradley, Dana Ballout, Giada Zampano and Anton Troianovski contributed to this article.
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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The latest on Pope Francis' first trip to Africa. (All times local.)
Pope Francis has urged Kenyan youths to resist the temptation of corruption, saying it's like sugar: You develop a taste for it but it's ultimately terrible for you.
Francis spoke off-the-cuff Friday to thousands of young people gathered in Nairobi's Kasarani stadium, and reflected on problems raised by two young Kenyans, including tribalism, extremism and corruption, which is a major obstacle in Kenya.
Francis said corruption isn't just in politics. He said: "It's in all the institutions, including in the Vatican there are cases of corruption."
The Vatican has been wracked by recent revelations in two new books detailing gross mismanagement and waste.
Transparency International has voted the Kenyan police force as the most corrupt institution in the country every year for the last decade. Kenya ranked a low 145 out of 174 countries in the Transparency International 2014 index of how common graft is perceived to be among citizens of various countries.
—AP writers Nicole Winfield and Tom Odula
Pope Francis is taking notes as young Kenyans are telling him about the problems they are facing dealing with tribalism, drug and alcohol addiction and violent radicalization.
Francis had a speech planned for his final public event in Kenya on Friday, but all indications are he's going to ditch it as he often does when he meets with young people.
Francis received a rock star welcome when he arrived at Nairobi's Kasarani stadium and spun around the track in his open-sided popemobile.
— Nicole Winfield, Nairobi
Pope Francis' final public event in Kenya is a huge youth rally at the Kasarani sports stadium, where thousands of flag-waving young Kenyans are waiting in the stands.
The crowd has erupted in cheers when President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived and the atmosphere is similar to a rock concert.
Francis will hear testimony from several young people and then offer his own remarks.
After the stadium, Francis has a private meeting with Kenyan bishops and then heads to the airport later Friday.
The next stop on his three-nation African tour is Uganda.
—Nicole Winfield, Nairobi
Pope Francis is denouncing the conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in, saying access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing.
Francis made the comments during a visit Friday to the Kangemi slum on Nairobi's northwestern edge. He insisted that everyone should have access to a basic sewage system, garbage collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities.
Francis told the residents that people forced to live in slums actually share values that wealthier neighborhoods can learn from: solidarity and looking out for the poor. But he says it's unjust that entire families are forced to live in unfit housing, often at exorbitant prices.
He called for a "respectful urban integration" with concrete initiatives to provide good quality housing for all.
— Nicole Winfield, Nairobi
The parish of St. Joseph's in Nairobi's Kangemi slum has erupted in cheers with the arrival of Pope Francis.
Francis greeted some people in wheelchairs in the front row before bowing down to receive a blessing and signing a guest book on Friday.
Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva welcomed Francis and said he should feel at home in Kangemi.
The parish is run by the priests of Francis' Jesuit order.
Kivuva told Francis: "Welcome to our home, Kangemi, home of the Jesuits."
— Nicole Winfield, Nairobi
Residents of the Kangemi slum in the Kenyan capital, where Pope Francis is arriving this Friday, say they lack some of the most basic services.