NYT: French officials missed warning signals on Paris attack for months

Those who figured that it was just a matter of time before the massive immigrant influx into Europe allowed infiltrators to conduct a massive terror attack turned out to be correct, but only in part. The New York Times lays out a story of a massive intelligence and security failure on the part of the French that can only be laid in part on the influx of refugees. They knew for months, and possibly years, that ISIS ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud planned to conduct a large-scale attack, but kept allowing him to come back into the country from Syria until it was too late.

The red lights began flashing in August:

“From late summer we knew something big was being planned,” said one French intelligence official. “We knew Abaaoud was involved in it but we didn’t know what, or where, or when. Everyone was on high alert.”

But they should have begun more than two years earlier:

On March 23, 2013, the authorities intercepted a call Mr. Abaaoud made on a Turkish cellphone to a friend in Belgium. He said he was leaving for “The Camp,” according to court records. His brother told Belgian security officials that Mr. Abaaoud had said he was going to Syria “to do jihad,” according to a court transcript.

When the police went to search his home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels months later, the items found inside his abandoned residence included pepper spray, gloves and two crowbars, along with the keys to a stolen Audi and three license plates.

Inscriptions praising the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, were on his door. On the wall, the court filing noted, was “a crude drawing of the ISIS flag, drawn with a marker.”

Ten months later, French and EU officials got an alert when Abaaoud re-entered the EU on a flight from Istanbul to Cologne. Despite being on a terror watch list, Abaaoud was allowed to proceed. His ability to go back and forth into Europe from the ISIS camps in Syria made Abaaoud a rising star in the terrorist army, and also made him a prime candidate to lead a major operation in the West, although the NYT notes that several of Abaaoud’s Daesh team managed to do the same thing in January of this year.

“Abaaoud came up all the time,” the judge, Marc Trévidic, recalled in an interview last week. “Especially after the January raids in Verviers.” …

But there was never a specific target, nor a date for an attack. The mission was always vague.

That changed on Aug. 15. In one of the last interviews the judge conducted, he found himself opposite a young Frenchman who had been handed money, encryption software and the most concrete target to date: “a rock concert hall” in Paris.

At this point, one might wonder why French officials didn’t start tracking Abaaoud and haul in his cell for interrogation. The US warned France about this time that they had picked up chatter of a major attack in preparation, although the timing and targets remained vague. Instead, despite all of the warnings, Abaaoud and his team were left to successfully conduct a Mumbai-style attack in Paris.

This explains why French authorities were able to track down the perpetrators so quickly after the attacks. However, it raises even more questions about how they allowed Abaaoud to slip away from them. They believe that Abaaoud has returned to Syria and ISIS, likely to enjoy his status as a successful commander of terrorist operations.

France has since turned to a war footing, and have cracked down on security risks that they have long identified but seemingly did little to surveil and investigate. The issue turns out to be less about the refugees than an unwillingness to understand the nature of this conflict, a part of which does involve the question of refugees. France just got a very expensive wake-up call. Have we learned anything?