France had been warned about the “imminent” Paris attacks, senior Iraqi intelligence officers have claimed on conditions of anonymity.
According to a report by the Associated Press, France’s security agencies were informed about a series of bombings and even a hostage-taking situation on Thursday, a day before Paris was rocked by multiple shootings and explosions, which left more than 120 people dead and a further 300 people wounded in its wake.
When a senior security official from France was approached to either confirm or deny the claims, he said that French intelligence got this kind of communication “all the time” and “every day.” Though it is difficult to gauge the immediate effect the revelation will have in the wider context, it does bring a hugely pertinent question into play: could the Paris attacks have been avoided?
The report suggests that Iraqi officials had not only discussed an “imminent attack” on French soil in a dispatch they sent to French intelligence agencies, but had also confirmed the number of attackers that might be involved in the deadly ordeal. In the dispatch, the report says, it was mentioned that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered an attack on coalition countries fighting against them in Iraq and Syria, as well as on Iran and Russia, “through bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days.”
In total, six Iraqi security officials corroborated the information in the dispatch, with two officials saying that France was also told about the numerous details that French authorities have not yet made public.
It is likely France would not release the information, considering that it might lead to a public outrage, but also because it might still contain details about more attacks planned by the Islamic State.
However, the officials did mention some of the important details contained in the dispatch, chief among them the fact that the Paris attacks appear to have been planned in Raqqa, Syria — the Islamic State’s de-facto capital — where the attackers were trained specifically for this operation and with the intention of sending them to France, according to the report.
Even more remarkably, a sleeper cell of ISIS in France met with the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan to lethal effect. The report claims that 24 people had been recruited to carry out the attacks, out of which 19 were attackers, while the other five were responsible for logistics and planning.
Earlier, ISIS had released a statement claiming eight of its militants wearing explosive belts and armed with machine guns attacked selected targets across the city, according to CNN. France has confirmed that two of the dead attackers have been identified, while an international manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, a Belgium-born French national who is suspected to have played a major role in Paris terror attacks, remains ongoing.
In Belgium, too, police arrested a number of people in raids throughout the weekend, though it is not yet known if those are the attackers the Iraqi security officials were referring to in their dispatch.
Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari confirmed reports about Iraqi intelligence agencies obtaining information of the Paris attacks, adding that more countries might still be targeted, including France, the United States and Iran.
United States officials and the French presidential palace have not yet responded to claims made by the Iraqi security agencies, though U.S. officials earlier said that the country is well-protected and does not face any immediate ISIS threat.
Just a few hours ago, French warplanes launched a retaliatory assault on targets in Raqqa, after the country’s security agencies coordinated the attack with U.S. defense officials, according to Washington Post. It is reported that more than 200 ISIS militants have been killed in the attack, though Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was not among them.
The Iraqi government began sharing intelligence with various coalition nations, including France, since they launched an airstrike campaign against the Islamic State group last year.
[Photo by David Ramos / Stringer via Getty Images]