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President of the association Generation 2000 Mosque of Luce Abdallah Benali (R) looks on during a press conference in the mosque of Luce, near Chartres, center France on November 15, 2015. The mosque was frequented by Omar Ismael Mostefai, one of the suicide bombers who took part in the attack on the Bataclan theatre in Paris on November 13. More than a hundred people were gunned down at the theatre during a concert by the US band Eagles of Death Metal. Islamic State jihadists claimed a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in the French capital, that killed at least 132 people in scenes of carnage at a concert hall, restaurants and the national stadium. AFP PHOTO / JEAN FRANCOIS MONIERJEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images


The first suspect named in Friday night's bloody attacks on Paris's entertainment district had been under police supervision for five years, though both neighbours and those who attended the same mosque say they saw no signs he was a radical.

The finger of 29-year-old Omar Ismail Mostefai was found among the carnage at the Bataclan music club, where 89 concert-goers were killed Friday night when a trio of militants entered during a show and began shooting people at random. Two of the militants blew themselves up with suicide vests, while a third was shot dead by police.

Mr. Mostefai's group was one of three cells that launched co-ordinated attacks all over Paris Friday night, collectively killing 129 people and injuring 352 others. While Mr. Mostefai's group was carrying out its murderous rampage inside Bataclan, a car with at least two gunmen inside was driving through the city's trendy 11th arrondissement, shooting indiscriminately into packed restaurants and bars. A trio of suicide bombers also blew themselves up outside the city's main soccer stadium, where the French and German national teams were playing a match.

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Seven of the attackers died Friday. Police launched a nationwide manhunt Sunday for at least one surviving gunman – identified as  Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Belgian national – after the car used in the shootings in the 11th arrondissement was discovered outside the city centre, near train and subway stations.

Mr. Mostefai's last known address in France was a two-storey semi-detached home in the working-class Madelaine district of Chartres. Local residents remember Mr. Mostefai as a friendly and polite neighbour, who worked as a baker and lived with his father, stepmother and four siblings. Mr. Mostefai wore a shalwar kameez when he went to the mosque with his father on Fridays, but betrayed no evidence of hostility towards the French state.

Mr. Mostefai and his family lived in Chartres for several years before leaving in 2012. Neighbours say they believe Mr. Mostefai moved to Algeria. French police suspect he travelled to Syria between the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014.

"He was a nice guy. I used to talk to him very day, just like I'm talking to you," said Nicolas Liboo, a 23-year-old mason who lived a few doors away from Mr. Mostefai and said they chatted almost "every day" on the streets. "I couldn't believe it when I saw on Facebook that [the suicide bomber] was Ismail. I was shocked."

Mr. Liboo said Mr. Mostefai owned a motorcycle and spoke passionately about motocross racing. He also spoke occasionally of his daughter, who lived with her mother and whom Mr. Mostefai rarely saw.

Mr. Liboo, who puffed on a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette as he spoke, said Mr. Mostefai didn't smoke or drink. His brothers were not as devout, however, and were known in the neighbourhood to sell drugs, resulting in several police raids of the house.

French police, however, say Mr. Mostefai was convicted eight times of petty crimes between 2004 and 2010, though he never served jail time. Mr. Mostefai's father, brother and at least six other acquaintances have been taken into custody since the attacks.

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French media, citing sources close to the investigation, said Mr. Mostefai and his father were regular attendees of the Mohsinine Mosque in the Charters suburb of Lucé. Staff at the mosque, however, say they only saw Mr. Mostefai "two or three times." Like Mr. Mostefai's neighbours, they describe a seemingly apolitical youth who seemed most interested in talking about sports.

"It was rare that he came. He might have prayed with me three times at most, that's it. There are no salafists in this mosque," said one member of the mosque who asked not to be named. "He didn't get radicalized in this mosque, it's not true."

Police, however, say Mr. Mostefai was on a supervision list since 2010. French media reported that police believe Mr. Mostefai he had been radicalized by a Belgian imam that spent time in Chartres.

"We knew him – after 2010 he was radicalizing himself," the mayor of Chartres, Jean-Pierre Gorges, told BBC. "How do you know when to intervene? We knew he was a delinquent. but many are like that."

The Mohsinine mosque itself has a troubled history. Its expansion in 2004 was met by protests from France's far-right Front National. The mosque has also gone through a succession of imams in recent years, though staff say the turnover was driven by disputes over management style, rather than the brand of Islam being taught.

"We don't discuss politics in our mosque," said Karim Ben Ayad, the vice-president of the Mohsinine mosque. Asked whether he personally supported France's military mission against Islamic State, Mr. Ben Ayad was vague. "Anywhere there is war, it's sad… What shocks me the most is when there are innocent victims, like two days ago [in Paris]."

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