Putting a Face on Terrorism


The search warrant for Salah Abdeslam released by French authorities shortly after the attacks
Source: via “Blog: fifth day after Paris tragedy”



The Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam is the only living suspect in the Paris terror attacks of November 13th that led to 129 deaths and 368 injuries. Soon after the details of the attacks became public, Salah was billed by some newspapers as Public Enemy No. 1, or as being “the most wanted” in Europe. Having escaped and evaded police authorities, he became “the target of one of the largest manhunts in European history.

According to multiple sources, Salah began as a small-time criminal until his imprisonment in 2011. Both he and his childhood friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the Belgian “mastermind” of the Paris attacks and ISIS militant that died in a police raid following the attacks – are believed to have been radicalized during their time in prison.

The Turkish intelligence service drew attention to Salah’s connection with ISIS earlier this year. However, due to lack of evidence and communication, he was released from custody. Authorities claimed that there was nothing they could have done differently considering the information they had at the time.

“We knew they were radicalized, and that they could go to Syria,”

Source: “Salah Abdeslam: 11 things we know about fugitive of Paris attacks”

Role in the attacks

Salah Abdeslam drove two men to the Bataclan theatre prior to the shootings and explosions. Reports from police and statements from friends indicated that Abdeslam was to launch an additional suicide bomb attack. ISIS claimed responsibility for eight attackers, but only seven were found dead at the scene. The Islamic State also claimed an attack in the 18th arrondissement, but no such attack took place. Instead, investigators found Abdeslam’s abandoned car on the scene.

“It is possible he panicked or chickened out of killing himself. It is possible that he was disgusted by what he had been involved in or that his explosive suicide belt failed to detonate.”

Source: “Salah Abdeslam: 11 things we know about fugitive of Paris attacks”


Just recently the police found a suicide belt with similar explosives to those used in the Paris attacks. This discovery adds to the speculations on Salah losing his nerve before another planned attack.

With aid from his friends, Salah escaped to Belgium. Knowing that Salah was out and about in Brussels, the terrorist threat was raised to the highest possible level. More recent reports suggested that Salah Abdeslam had escaped to Syria.

Although Salah Abdeslam has temporarily become the face of terrorism, it seems unlikely that he still poses a significant threat. But there remain numerous other radicalized Islamists in Europe. Therefore we are lead to believe that, when we catch Salah Abdeslam, the threat is not over. For this reason, the chase has become more about re-establishing the credibility of the intelligence and security organizations.


The United States

Throughout the past few weeks, American media became increasingly interested in Salah Abdeslam and his associates. Sources suggested that he remained the only living suspect in the Paris attacks after a potential last­-minute change of heart. Human considerations were also made in cited statement from the brother of Salah and Brahim, who said that neither he nor his family could have imagined his brothers would be involved.


Source: “Mohamed Abdeslam’s brother Brahim died during a Paris suicide attack and his other brother Salah is a fugitive”. Leila Khemissi/AP”


Particular emphasis was put to the background of Abdeslam brothers growing up in the Muslim neighborhood of Molenbeek, which was even described as a haven for extremists. The Brussels borough was linked to several other terrorist attacks in the past years.

“This is a small place; we all crossed paths with them,” the deputy mayor of Molenbeek, Ahmed el Khannouss, said Monday, referring to the three suspects from the district. But, he added, “we are all totally shocked that they could have been involved in something so terrible.”

Source: “In Suspects’ Brussels Neighborhood, a History of Petty Crimes and Missed Chances”


German media appeared to be interested in all of the suspects involved in the Paris attacks, and Salah Abdeslam was only assigned a supporting role. For this reason there was no speculation as to why he failed to carry out another attack.

Similarly to American media, the Molenbeek origin was seen as a crucial factor. Molenbeek was characterized as an area where integration has significantly failed.

German media analyzed the reasons for the shocking increase of radicalization. It was argued that people were more likely to become terrorists and join ISIS if they had family members committed to this.

“Social media and online propaganda play an important role in the radicalization of potential jihadists. Role models in the close and personal environment, however, seem to be even more attractive. The relatives are the ones that really matter, much more than religion”

Source: “Siblings as Islamist Terrorists: Brothers in unspirit”


Lithuanian media expressed interest in Abdeslam’s life before the terror attacks in attempting to explain what influenced his religious radicalization. In doing so, media sources devoted significant attention to the Molenbeek district of Brussels, referring to it as ‘an European capital of terrorism”, ‘source of terrorism’, ‘ a phenomenon of Molenbeek’, ‘an abscess of Brussels’, ‘a headache to Belgium’.

“People say that there are zones in this Brussels district inhabited by Muslims that are not controlled by the police.”

Source: “A walk in the infamous Molenbeek – everyone knew the terrorists there”


As observed in American media, Lithuanian sources speculated that the reason for Salah remaining as the single living suspect was that he lost his cold-bloodedness and did not complete the savage tasks, including his own “martyrdom”, allocated to him by ISIS.


Interest in the topic was very high within Russian media. Vesti.ru linked the terrorist attacks to the ongoing refugee crisis, implying that jihadists could easily pass European borders among fleeing waves of refugees. One of the articles explained that, for as little as 1000 euros, almost everyone could get a Syrian passport and ask for asylum in the EU.

“One of the organizers of the terrorist attacks in Paris was saved from the drowning boat with migrants”

Source: Vesti.ru


For a native reader it was evident that the media implied incompetence on the part of security institutions in France and Belgium with examples such as the release of the suspect for only 70 euros despite suspicions of radicalism. Attention was also drawn to the fact that Salah’s documents were checked on the Belgian border shortly after the attacks – but before his relation to the attacks was made public.

“The 26­-year-old  Salah  Abdeslam  took  part  in the Paris  terrorist attacks,  but  managed  to  escape. The police checked his documents one time and let him go.”

Source: “Police  has freed  accomplice  of  the  terract  in  Paris  for  70 euros”


The window of this book store in Molenbeek gives an idea of a typical consumer.
Source: “Molenbeek, the place where terrorism came from”



As in other countries, Estonian media was very interested in Salah Abdeslam. News sources paid substantial attention to the origin of three of the suspects in the Molenbeek district of Brussels. It was referred to as the jihadi capital of Europe, as Belgium was said to be the weakest link in the fight against terrorism.


Source: via “Blog: fifth day after Paris tragedy”


Estonian media vigorously reported the ongoing threat in Brussels, especially – but not exclusively – due to Salah Abdeslam still being on the run. The suspect was speculated to have received help with hiding and fleeing.

“Abdeslam is in Brussels, equipped with a suicide bomb belt and ready to blow himself up”, said his friend and accomplice in escape from Paris.”

Source: “Terrorism threat in Brussels remains in the highest possible level”


The media shed light to Salah’s background as well. His radicalism was a surprise to his family and friends. Salah’s brother, Mohammed, suggested that his brother was manipulated into committing the crime.

The media mostly refrained from speculation on the reasons for Salah’s failed attack, but one article mentioned the possibility of technical problems with his suicide belt, which was later found in a trash bin in Paris.



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