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PARIS – France and Belgium have been rocked by back-to-back events linked to terrorism, but the sole connection for now seems to be their common objective: to strike a blow at an advanced Western democracy.
Officials don't believe there is a direct link between last week's attacks in Paris and a foiled plot this week in Belgium. Yet the parallels are numerous. Both involved people known or suspected of close ties to radical Islam. Both groups had acquired battlefield-caliber weapons that gave them enormous kill power.
Here is a glance at what is known of what is known about the three men who killed 17 people in Paris last week and the terrorist plot that Belgian authorities announced they foiled on Thursday night.
In France, the attackers — all subsequently killed by police — were native-born French citizens of North African and African origin. One, Amedy Coulibaly, had a lengthy criminal record including three convictions for armed robbery. He and another Paris attacker, Cherif Kouachi, had prior convictions for conspiracies that involved fellow Islamic militants.
In Belgium, authorities gave few details Friday about the 13 people reported detained in that country's terror plot investigation. Most of the detainees were said to be Belgian nationals, while two terror suspects killed in a shootout with police in the town of Verviers had yet to be conclusively identified. Two Belgians living in France were also arrested.
THE FOREIGN CONNECTIONS
Cherif Kouachi is believed to have gone to train with Islamic radicals in Yemen in 2011, according to U.S. officials. He apparently used the ID of his older brother Said, which created confusion for a time about which of them had gone to Yemen.
In Belgium, some of the arrested suspects were identified by officials as returning radical Muslim combatants from Syria. There are believed to be some 150 returning "foreign fighters" now back on Belgian soil.
Coulibaly professed allegiance to the Islamic State and the Kouachi brothers to the rival al-Qaida in Yemen group. But they had known each other for a decade and their bond of friendship appeared to trump doctrinal differences.
Authorizes have not yet disclosed which organization, or organizations, the terror suspects in Belgium may have been affiliated with.
In France, the attackers struck at Charlie Hebdo, a publication known for printing cartoons disrespectful of organized religion, radical Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, as well as at a kosher supermarket, and Coulibaly killed an unarmed municipal policewoman.
In Belgium, authorities said the suspects were intending to go after hard targets symbolic of government power: police stations and police officers on patrol. Authorities said the attacks might have begun within hours.
The French attackers accumulated a large weapons stockpile_one British military expert estimated it as worth $10,000 — including three late-model Kalashnikov assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a machine pistol, smoke grenades and bombs, fragmentation grenades, handguns and industrial explosives.
A dozen searches in Verviers and the Brussels area led to the seizure of four Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand guns and explosives. In Verviers, several police uniforms were also found, which Belgian authorities said suggested the plotters had intended to masquerade as police officers.
French authorities are still seeking up to a half-dozen suspected accomplices of Coulibaly and the Kouachis. On Friday, at least 12 people believed to have had ties to Coulibaly were arrested in the greater Paris area.
In Belgium, authorities said Friday they believe they have broken the back of that country's terrorism plot by capturing the leaders responsible for planning and logistics, but are hunting more suspects. Police are also investigating a connection that Coulibaly may have had with a Belgian-based illegal arms dealer.