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This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq shows Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian jihadi suspected of masterminding deadly attacks in Paris. Abaaoud was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the city prosecutor's office announced Thursday.Uncredited/The Associated Press

Five years ago, Abdelhamid Abaaoud was a petty criminal, a lost young man who could have joined his father's clothing business in an immigrant neighbourhood of Brussels. By 2014, he had left for Syria, a militant so fervent and dangerous that his own family wished him dead. Then, earlier this year, he slipped back into Europe, intent on causing carnage.

The alleged architect of the attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead, Mr. Abaaoud was killed on Wednesday in a police raid in the suburb of Saint-Denis, French authorities confirmed.

They also linked him to four other terrorist plots foiled this year, including a plan to attack a church south of Paris and an assault on a high-speed train in August which was disrupted by passengers. The 28-year old Belgian was in the midst of planning further attacks at the time of the raid, French authorities said.

Mr. Abaaoud's transformation into an Islamic State militant and his ability to move in and out of Europe undetected show the depth of the challenge security forces face from homegrown jihadists.

By the time he surfaced in Syria in early 2014, he quickly demonstrated a flair for brutality and self-promotion. In a video released by the French magazine Paris Match, he is shown driving a truck dragging several corpses toward a mass grave.

"Before, we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with presents for the holidays in Morocco," he says, smiling. "Now, thank God, we're towing those who are fighting us, those who are fighting Islam."

Born to Moroccan immigrant parents, Mr. Abaaoud grew up in the gritty neighbourhood of Molenbeek where his father owned a clothing store. As a teenager, he was admitted to a prestigious secondary school in a tony neighbourhood in Brussels. He left after one year, The New York Times reported, either because of poor behaviour or poor grades.

By the age of 21, he was having small run-ins with the police. In 2006, he was convicted of attempted theft, according to a report by Radio France, then assault and battery in 2009, then sentenced to one month in prison for theft in 2011. Brahim Abdeslam, who was one of the attackers in Paris on Friday, was convicted along with him.

Alexandre Chateau, the lawyer who represented Mr. Abaaoud, told French radio he seemed "a little bit lost," but not unusual – indeed, his behaviour was typical of the petty criminals prevalent in the neighbourhood. The last time the lawyer saw him was in 2013. He had let his beard grow and talked more of religion, but showed no overt signs of radicalization, Mr. Chateau said.

A lawyer for Mr. Abaaoud's father, Omar, told Belgian radio that the father believes his son became radicalized in prison, a common trajectory for some Islamic militants. In 2014, Mr. Abaaoud persuaded his younger brother, Younes, just 13 years old, to come to Syria to join the Islamic State. A photo of Younes holding an assault rifle appeared on social media and the Belgian press dubbed him "the world's youngest jihadist."

Their parents were shattered. When the family was informed – falsely, it turned out – that Mr. Abaaoud had been killed in Syria in late 2014, their reaction was relief. "We are praying that Abdelhamid really is dead," his older sister, Yasmina, said, according to The New York Times. His father said in January that he never wanted to see Abdelhamid again. "Our lives have been destroyed," Omar Abaaoud said. The parents are now living in Morocco.

In Syria, Abdelhamid Abaaoud became a military commander for Islamic State in the eastern Deir Ezzor province. There he was known as either Abou Omar Soussi, after the family's roots in the southwest region of Morocco, or Abou Omar al-Baljiki, meaning Abou Omar the Belgian. He remained in close contact with a network of French-speaking jihadists, including Mehdi Nemmouche, who shot and killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May, 2014.

At some point last year, Mr. Abaaoud returned to Belgium, where authorities believed he organized and financed a terror cell in the city of Verviers which was planning an attack on law-enforcement officers. On Jan. 15, two of his suspected accomplices were killed in a police raid, but Mr. Abaaoud eluded the dragnet.

The next month, he bragged about his ability to escape law enforcement. "I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!" Mr. Abaaoud was quoted as saying in Dabiq, the English-language magazine put out by Islamic State.

French authorities said they did not know that Mr. Abaaoud had once again returned to Europe until Monday, three days after the attacks that devastated Paris.