Greek authorities conducted in January an operation in Athens to track down 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
At the time, there were indications that Abaaoud was directing a jihadi cell in Verviers, Belgium, from Athens. Two suspects were shot dead in a fierce gun battle with police during the raid in the town on January 15.
As Kathimerini had reported, on the same day as the police raid in Verviers authorities in Athens were searching for a suspect believed to have a mobile phone via which he appeared to be coordinating the jihadists, who were said to be planning an attack against the Belgian police.
According to a well-informed source, the search took place in the area of Omonia, central Athens, as that is where the phone had been traced. Members of the Greek anti-terrorist squad, as well as officers from foreign intelligence services took part in the operation.
An official from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry in Athens said that officers from Europol had visited Athens at the time to help track Abaaoud, whose codename is “Omar.”
Sources told Kathimerini that Belgian officers noticed calls from the Verviers cell to an accomplice in Athens from January 2. No suspect was found during the search on January 15 and the SIM card in the mobile phone in questions ceased to be used following the police raid in Belgium.
Greek officers asked for information from mobile phone companies and were informed that one of the connections used by the suspect could be traced to the Athens neighborhood of Pangrati.
On January 17, Greek police arrested two people at a ground-floor apartment in Pangrati and searched one more property in Athens. A 33-year-old Algerian man named Omar Damas was found in possession of the phone used to communicate with the Verviers cell.
Damas, who had lived in Greece since 2011 and who had served time in jail for robbery, was extradited to Belgium. Greek authorities, however, continued to investigate whether the Algerian had links to Abaaoud or with a Greek of Syrian origins who had left the country to fight for the so-called Islamic State. The latter is said to have left for Syria after his brother was killed fighting for IS.
Abaaoud is currently thought to be in Syria. According to RTL Radio he is from the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, home to other members of the militant Islamist cell that carried out the Paris attacks.
"He appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe," a source close to the French investigation told Reuters.