At the trial of the attacks of November 13, the garbage collectors, the computer and the plan of terror

The hearing of a Belgian investigator before the special assize court in Paris, March 23, 2022.

On March 22, 2016 in the early morning, a collection truck passed in front of 4, rue Max-Roos, in Brussels. Before removing a garbage bag, the garbage collectors undertake to explore its contents. Inside, they find a computer, which they decide to save from the dumpster. A few kilometers away, shortly before 8 a.m., two terrorists blew themselves up at the Brussels airport of Zaventem. The attack killed sixteen people.

When the Bruxelles Propreté truck passed through the district at the end of the morning, rue Max-Roos was cordoned off. A taxi driver told the police the address of the suicide bombers and searches are underway. The garbage collectors are seized with a doubt and inspect the computer. The wallpaper appears: a photo of seven hooded men posing in front of the flag of the Islamic State organization. They immediately hand over the machine to a Belgian policeman.

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This is how one of the most spectacular discoveries of the investigation into the attacks of November 13 and those in Brussels narrowly escaped destruction.

Inside this computer, among hundreds of erased files, the investigators managed to reconstruct the tree structure of a folder entitled “November 13”, detailing by menu the plan of attacks. The circumstances of this discovery, which do not appear in the French investigation file, had remained confidential until a Belgian investigator revealed them before the special assize court in Paris, Wednesday, March 23.

The Bataclan, the first target of terrorists?

The November 13 trial has just opened one of its last chapters devoted to the development of these attacks, that of the final preparations between November 7 and 13, 2015. The file discovered in the trash can of rue Max-Roos in constitutes one of the keystones: it makes it possible to date the finalization of the project and to understand the initial plans.

This file tree had been removed from the computer, which was additionally equipped with TrueCrypt encryption software. It has been reconstructed “from the consultation history”, explains the investigator. Only the names of the files are accessible, not their contents. This technical data, as we will see, is not without effect on the interpretation of other less sensitive files found on the hard disk: a video recording of Cyrano de Bergeracthe play by Edmond Rostand, and three classics of French cinema.

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First lesson of the tree structure of the attacks: the project was finalized very late. The folder “November 13” premiered on November 7, 2015, just six days before the attacks. It consists of five sub-folders created three days later: “Omar Group”, which corresponds to the commando of the terraces, led by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, alias Abou Omar; “French Group”which contains an image file “Bataclan.jpg” ; “Iraqi Group”which refers to the Stade de France commando; “Schiphol Group”, which appears to describe a planned attack at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport; and finally, “Metro Group”.

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