Residents in the sleepy suburb of Chartres expressed shock that Omar Ismail Mostefai, a former neighbor who would go on to be identified as a suicide bomber in the Paris massacre last Friday, had been their neighbor. “This place has nothing to do with those banlieue in Paris,” one neighbor said, alluding to the dangerous urban areas of the capital known as a breeding ground for violent Muslim youth.
Mostefai was one of the first to be identified following multiple attacks on social venues in Paris on Friday, following the discovery of one of his fingers, which gave police a fingerprint to use to identify him. He was 29 years old and born and raised in France, taking a detour in 2012-2013 to visit Turkey and, some suggest, sneak into Syria to meet with Islamic State operatives.
His last known residence was in the town of Chartres, population 40,000, a suburb of Paris populated mostly with families. Speaking to neighbors there this week, Spanish newspaper El País found shock and confusion. During his estimated three years there, Mostefai had been a quiet, barely perceptible neighbor. “He was very polite, my daughter went to school with his,” one neighbor said.
“He did not speak to anyone,” another neighbor, identified as Corinne, told El País. “Every morning a friend would wait for him on the road by his house and they went to the mosque. I do not think he had a job, but his father worked at the airport.”
Another expressed confusion at how a radical Islamist could end up in Chartres. “This is not the type of area where there is a hotbed of this type of radicals,” a neighbor identified as Benoit said. “This has nothing to do with those banlieue in Paris, there are only families here.”
Banlieue is the French term for a set of underprivileged Paris suburbs known to churn out criminal youth, many of them descendants of Muslim immigrants to France. While Chartres is nothing of the sort, the BBC reports Mostefai grew up in precisely this atmosphere, a banlieue called Courcouronnes. The network met with some of Mostefai’s childhood friends, who showed the network videos of Mostefai freestyle rapping on the streets. Dominic, a friend of Mostefai’s, describes their upbringing as “war”: “Drugs. Guns. Everything. Life was about defending your area.”
The Guardian had a more charitable description of Courcouronnes, saying it is “ethnically diverse, has a young population and a high proportion of social housing. It does not have decaying towerblocks, nor does it share the reputation of other much tougher estates in neighbouring Évry or nearby in Grigny.”
While Mostefai never spent time in prison, he was convicted of eight petty crimes between 2004 and 2010. On his file, authorities had labeled him “S,” the law enforcement signal that someone has the potential to radicalize and join a jihadist organization.
His travels in 2013 alarmed authorities in Turkey, though there is no evidence the French government was monitoring him in any way. According to a “senior Turkish official” speaking to AFP, the Turkish government warned France twice that Mostefai needed monitoring. Mostefai had entered Turkey legally in 2013, and while no official evidence points to him traveling to Syria, an estimated thousands of ISIS radicals have used the porous border to get on the battlefield or travel to ISIS training camps. Turkish authorities allegedly did not receive a response from France.
Iraq had also warned France and others in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition of an imminent attack, according to Iraqi officials. They issued a warning on Thursday that ISIS terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered jihadists to execute a series of attacks on any nation in the anti-ISIS coalition, as well as Russia and Iran.
Breitbart News reported exclusively Saturday that evidence exists the Paris attacks were planned in ISIS-controlled Syria. An activist working with the human rights group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently told Breitbart News he overheard terrorists plotting an attack in France this February, planning to send two groups of terrorists into France to execute the attacks.