PARIS Charaffe al Mouadan, an Islamic State leader killed by air strikes in Syria last week, was linked to at least two Paris attackers and had trained in a local shooting club with one of them, officials said on Wednesday.
In another dimension of the investigation into the Nov. 13 shooting and bombing rampage in Paris in which 130 people died, a source close to the inquiry confirmed a report that said at least one man was suspected of having coordinated the attacks from Belgium via mobile phone as they were being carried out.
The disclosures helped flesh out a picture of the Paris attackers and how their operation unfolded, as well as of flaws in France's surveillance and supervision of militant suspects.
Al Mouadan, 26, was close to Paris attacker Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old former bus driver who blew himself up in Paris's Bataclan concert hall, the mayor of the Paris suburb where both grew up told Reuters.
Both had plans to get to Yemen, a hotbed of Islamist militancy, in 2012 and subsequently left France for war-torn Syria in 2013, Drancy Mayor Jean-Christophe Lagarde said, adding that more should have been done to stop them.
"They were arrested in 2012 when they planned to leave for Yemen and were placed under judicial supervision," Lagarde said, with a third man being part of their group.
"He (al Mouadan) was the first to leave for Syria, in June or July 2013. The other two left about two months later. He paved the way. What I don't understand is that (al Mouadan) missed police check-ins for two months and no one reacted, no one went after the other two," he said in a telephone interview.
The source close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the link between al Mouadan and Amimour and said one could assume Mouadan also knew Ismail Omar Mostefai, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who was another of the attackers of the Bataclan concert hall and died there.
The source confirmed that both Mouadan and Amimour had dodged police check-ins and that Mouadan left first for Syria.
"The question of his (al Mouadan's) possible role in the Nov. 13 attacks remains. Since he was in contact with Amimour, all questions must be raised," the source said.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren had said on Tuesday that al Mouadan was killed on an air strike in Syria on Dec. 24, one of 10 Islamic State leaders killed in U.S.-led strikes over the past month, and that he was directly associated with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks.
The source close to the investigation also confirmed reports in Le Parisien daily that al Mouadan and Amimour trained together at a Paris shooting club and that the former had been a good student, studied information technology and had told police in 2012 he turned toward radical Islam when he started working.
"At the time I was hired by a firm, I (realized I) could not practice my religion properly," Le Parisien quoted him as telling police. "I started watching more and more videos on persecutions of Muslims throughout the world."
While it was already known that several of the Paris attackers came from Belgium, the source confirmed a Le Monde report that two of the militant teams were in contact during the evening with two mobile phones based in Belgium.
Le Monde, citing on what it said was access to 6,000 police investigation documents, wrote that those two mobiles were localized during the attacks in the same area in Belgium, which the source also confirmed.
At least eight of the Paris attackers are dead, with seven killed on Nov. 13 and one, Abaaoud, a few days later in a police raid in Brussels. The number involved in the attacks may have been 10 or higher and at least four people continue to be sought.
Al Mouadan lived in a middle-class residential district between Drancy city center and the train station, Lagarde said, insisting this was not an underprivileged area. The family house was searched as part of the inquiry into the Nov. 13 attacks, he said. Al Mouadan's family was originally from Morocco.
Lagarde said he did not personally know al Mouadan but that he knew Amimour's family, whom he said told him that al Mouadan seemed to be the leader of their group of three people and had later risen in Islamic State ranks more than the other two.
Another of those killed in air strikes over the past month was Abdul Qader Hakim, who facilitated Islamic State's external operations and had links to the Paris attack network, U.S. military spokesman Warren said.
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark Heinrich)