What We Know About the Paris Attacks

4 MINS READNov 17, 2015 | 09:00 GMT
What We Know About the Paris Attacks
Authorities evacuate people from the area around the Bataclan concert hall in Paris early on Nov. 14.

New information from the investigation into the attacks in Paris has given us some insights into what transpired leading up to and on Nov. 13. First, here's what we know about the attackers:

  • Ismael Omar Mostefai, 29, is believed to have been one of the suicide bombers at the Bataclan concert hall. He was identified by his fingerprints. Mostefai was born and raised in the Parisian suburbs. He had eight convictions for petty crimes between 2004 and 2010 but had not served any jail time, and French authorities believed that he had been radicalized. Mostefai is also believed to have traveled to Syria.
  • Samy Amimour, 28, is believed to have been one of the suicide bombers at the Bataclan concert hall. Amimour was born in Paris and lived in Drancy, a northern Parisian suburb. He was charged in 2012 for associations with terrorists, and an international arrest warrant was issued for him after he violated unspecified restrictions.
  • Ahmad al-Mohammad is the name found on a Syrian passport outside the Stade de France. It is unclear whether the passport is authentic, but the man carrying it arrived on the Greek island of Leros from Turkey in October.
  • Bilal Hadfi, 29 or 30, is believed to have been one of the suicide bombers outside the Stade de France. Hadfi was a French national who lived in Belgium.
  • Brahim Abdeslam, 30 or 31, blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire cafe, according to a police official. He is believed to have rented a black SEAT car that was registered in Belgium and was found in the southern Parisian suburb of Montreuil with three Kalashnikov rifles inside.
  • Salah Abdeslam, 26, is the brother of Brahim Abdeslam and is believed to be the only attacker not killed during the attacks. French police have issued a public appeal for information on the Belgian national.
  • Two other attackers, one at the Stade de France and one at the Bataclan theater, remain unidentified.

The attacks were well coordinated and carefully planned, but from a terrorist tradecraft perspective they were not groundbreaking. Armed assaults directed at soft targets happen relatively frequently, including in Paris earlier this year. Authorities cannot be everywhere all the time, and attackers have shown they can make major headlines with attacks on soft targets such as cafes and theaters.

One thing that separated these attacks from other recent assaults in North America and Western Europe, however, was the addition of suicide vests. The attackers used a homemade explosive, tri-acetone tri-peroxide (TATP). The ingredients to make TATP are easily obtained, which is part of the reason it and other peroxide-based explosives have been featured in several recent jihadist plots, including Richard Reid's 2001 attempted shoe bombing, the 2005 subway attacks in London and the 2006 plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic flights.

But just because the components of TATP are easy to collect does not mean the mixture is easy to work with. Nicknamed "the Mother of Satan" by Hamas, TATP is notoriously dangerous to make because of its volatility and propensity to severely burn or kill bombmakers. It is difficult to make large quantities of TATP because it degrades so rapidly, becoming very sensitive. The batch used in the Paris attacks was probably made mere days before the attacks. This factor, combined with the knowledge that none of the devices failed, strongly suggests the devices were made by a professional bombmaker or someone who had received training and was technically proficient.

Given the details about the explosives used and the potentially fake Syrian passport made in Turkey, it appears the Paris attacks could have been the product of grassroots and core Islamic State operatives working together effectively. It may be some time, however, before we know exactly how the attacks were planned, funded and directed.

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