When the alleged mastermind of the Paris terror attacks was thought to have been killed in Syria a year ago while fighting for ISIS, his family prayed that it was true. Abdelhamid Abaaoud—who attended an exclusive Catholic school in Brussels before dropping out of secondary school and spending time in jail for petty crime—suddenly moved to Syria in 2014, reports the New York Times. He stayed for a time with French-speaking jihadists and soon after convinced his 13-year-old brother, Younes, to join him. "All my life I have seen the blood of Muslims flow. I pray that God breaks the backs of those who oppose him" and "that he exterminates them," he said in a video. "[Abdelhamid] destroyed our families," his father said at the time. "I don't ever want to see him again." Of course, Abaaoud, 26, was very much alive.
His cellphone was tracked to Athens at the end of last year, an official says. It appears he then continued on to Belgium. A January raid on a safe house for militants there was meant to stop him, but Abaaoud again slipped through the cracks. "I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary," he told an ISIS magazine, per the Independent. Now a suspected leader of ISIS branch Katibat al-Battar al Libi, which has recruited many Belgians, Abaaoud has likely proved valuable because of his connections, reports the Times. Among his childhood friends are Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim, a Paris suicide bomber. Authorities were said to be targeting Abaaoud during a raid north of Paris early Wednesday, but it isn't clear if he's been found. (Read more Abdelhamid Abaaoud stories.)