NSA provided key to finding Paris attack suspect

NSA provided key to finding Paris attack suspect
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The National Security Agency (NSA) provided critical intelligence to Belgian officials that led to the arrest of suspected Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam, according to a report on Monday.

Two Belgian officials told BuzzFeed News that the U.S. agency was called in to gather data about the cellphones of people attending the funeral of another Paris attacker in March, which eventually led officials to Abdeslam.

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“As Edward Snowden has so helpfully explained to everyone, the NSA are the best at signal intercepts,” one security official told BuzzFeed.

Belgian officials called the NSA in to monitor the March funeral of Chakib Akrouh, another terrorist who detonated a suicide vest during a standoff with police days after the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

Together, the NSA and Belgian officials “grabbed all the information about all the phones present [at the funeral],” the person said.

The NSA reportedly collected bulk information from the funeral attendees’ phones, such as which numbers they had been in contact with.

The agency singled out one phone in particular, BuzzFeed reported, which belonged to a known associate of Abdeslam who was filming the funeral.

“The guy is filming on a smartphone — that tells us he’s going to send that file to someone, right?” a security service official told BuzzFeed. “We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”

Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect of the November violence in Paris, was arrested after a shootout in Brussels in March, and now sits in a Belgian prison.

The NSA did not respond to an inquiry from The Hill about its involvement in the operation.

In recent months, U.S. officials have bemoaned the state of their European counterparts, who they worry are overwhelmed by the influx of extremists who have returned from the headquarters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or follow its preachings from afar.

Abdeslam is believed to have planned to blow himself up along with the other attackers in Paris last November, but then backed out at the last moment. After the massacre in Paris, he fled to Belgium, and was apprehended this March.  

Days later, suspected associates of his in Brussels carried out coordinated attacks across the city, killing more than 30 victims.