Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man French authorities suspect of masterminding the attacks in Paris, has appeared in Islamic State (IS) group promotional videos driving a car dragging mutilated bodies towards a mass grave.
Abaaoud, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Umar al-Baljiki, has been on the run since police stormed a jihadist cell in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers in January.
He has also been linked to the attack by a gunman on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels in Germany in which three people were injured.
Abaaoud is from Molenbeek, a poor district in Brussels, in which at least one of the Paris attackers and a number of people arrested in subsequent raids had spent time.
Analyst Claude Moniquet said the area has for two decades lodged Islamic extremists who have fought in Algeria, Afghanistan Bosnia, Syria and Iraq.
In an interview with IS’s online magazine, Dabiq, in February, Abaaoud said he had recently arrived in the group’s self-declared caliphate after fleeing Europe following the raids in Verviers.
“My name and picture were all over the net yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary,” he said.
In the interview, he described setting up a safe house along with two other jihadists in Belgium who were slain in the January raid and obtaining weapons while planning to carry out operations against “crusaders”.
He also praised jihadists “terrorising the crusaders” in Australia, France, the United States, Belgium and Germany.
Abaaoud was in contact with at least one of the Abdeslam brothers, the AFP news agency reported.
Brahim Abdeslam was one of the suicide attackers in Paris.
His brother Salah is being hunted by police.