The seeds of the terror blasts that shook Europe were planted by a brotherhood of childhood friends who grew up just a few doors away from each other in a part of Brussels dubbed the ‘crucible of terror’.
Police following the trail of the terrorist murderers behind the atrocities in France and Belgium have repeatedly arrived at a single block of housing in Molenbeek, a district of Brussels known as a hotbed of jihadism.
The centre of the deadly network is the Abdeslam family home, a first floor apartment on Gemeenteplaats, behind the local police station – and just round the corner from the home of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the brains behind the Paris attacks.
Abaaoud, the linchpin of the terror cell, was killed in a furious shootout with police in Saint-Denis, Paris, in the aftermath of the November massacres. He has emerged as the group’s ringleader, along with Salah Abdeslam.
Brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam were involved in the carnage in Paris, in which Brahim, 31, was killed in a suicide attack on the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant.
It is understood that Salah, 26, went on the run without detonating his suicide vest.
Salah, who is accused of making the bombs used in the attacks, was arrested last week round the corner from the family home in a frantic police raid after four months on the run. He is also thought to have been involved in the Brussels attacks with a ‘new network’ of fanatics.
Just a few doors down from the Abdeslam and Abaaoud apartments is the family home of Mohamed Abrini, 30, who drove the Abdeslam brothers to Paris to carry out the attacks and is accused of being involved with the Brussels plot. He remains at large, and police are desperately trying to track him down.
Abrini is a childhood friend of Salah Abdeslam, and it is thought that the two became radicalised together. Moreover, Abrini’s younger brother Souleymane, 20, died in 2014 in Syria while fighting in the same ISIS military unit as Abaaoud,
Yesterday, a family member at the Abrini property told MailOnline she was ‘in a state of shock’ in the aftermath of the latest atrocities, and feared that Abrini may have once again been involved.
The tight-knit network doesn’t end there. A short distance from the Abdeslam and Abrini residences is the home of Ayoub El Khazzani, the terrorist who launched the botched gun and bomb attack on the Amsterdam-to-Paris express train in August last year.
The close bond shared by the band of brothers sheds new light on the dangers threatening Europe, where the efforts of a small number of childhood friends can bring the continent to its knees.
It also allows police to piece together the process by which they were radicalised, and identify which members of the cell were the linchpins and which were under their spell.
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