Salim Benghalem is a chief suspect in the Paris terrorist attacks that left more than 130 people dead, and now the ISIS terrorist is the subject of an international manhunt.
Benghalem has been known to intelligence officials both in the United States and France for his connections to terrorism. The 35-year-old grew up in a suburb of Paris and is connected to the Buttes-Chaumont network in Paris that has recruited and sent militants to Iraq to fight U.S. troops.
Two of those militants were Said and Cherif Kouachi, two of the terrorists who took part in the January attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris that left 12 people dead.
— LBC (@LBC) November 14, 2015
As The Daily Beast reported, Salim Benghalem is now the main suspect in the attack on Paris.
“But more important for France, counterterrorism officials say that Benghalem is the supervisor for French would-be jihadists who travel to Syria to live and train with the group,” the report noted. “U.S. as well as French and other European authorities have locked onto this so-called foreign fighter flow as a main threat to their domestic security. Some of the fighters ISIS trains, it then sends back to the West countries to conduct attacks.”
Benghalem was also known as an executioner, with connections to the death of western hostages and journalists.
The French military almost killed Salim Benghalem last month, the report noted, with an airstrike near the Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. But Benghalem was able to survive the attack.
Though he is now known as a ruthless terrorist, as a teen Benghalem was anything but a strict Muslim. An October 2014 report spoke to those who knew Benghalem as a teen, saying he was known for smoking pot and going out clubbing.
Benghalem left France in 2001 after being accused of murder and attempted murder in a fight between rival gangs. He returned in 2002 and was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but was released in 2010 for good behavior.
This is not the first time he has left France. In 2001, he fled to Algeria where his family originates from after being accused of murder and attempted murder as part of a fight between rival gangs.
He remained in contact with his family for a year, finally returning in 2002 when he was detained.
At the time, Benghalem did not have a reputation as a radical. A friend told France 24 that in his spare time, Benghalem “he went out at night, with everything that entails: girls, some alcohol, but particularly weed.”
“When I saw him again after his release from prison, I felt he had matured,” said the friend, noting that there were no signs Benghalem was becoming a radical Muslim. “I don’t think anyone can explain what happened.”
But Benghalem has been known to intelligence officials for some time. In 2014, the United States State Department designated him as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which “imposes sanctions and penalties on terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.”
“Salim Benghalem is a Syria-based French extremist and ISIL member, who carries out executions on behalf of the group. In 2007, Salim was convicted and sentenced to prison in France for a 2001 murder. Today, Benghalem is the subject of a European arrest warrant because of his activities on behalf of ISIL.”
Authorities have not officially named Salim Benghalem a suspect in planning the Paris terrorist attacks, but regardless the ISIS executioner remains a top target for coalition strikes.
[Image via Le Monde/video screenshot]