Arrest may shed light on Paris attacks

Belgian police securing the area upon their arrival in Molenbeek on Friday. The suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was nabbed after a shoot-out during a raid on an apartment.
Belgian police securing the area upon their arrival in Molenbeek on Friday. The suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was nabbed after a shoot-out during a raid on an apartment.PHOTO: REUTERS

Abdeslam is believed to be the sole surviving member of 10-man team behind Nov killings

BRUSSELS • The European authorities have hailed the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the man they see as having the answers to many questions about the deadliest terrorist attacks on French soil last November.

The Belgium-born French citizen was to be questioned by Belgian police ahead of his transfer to France. However, his lawyer said his client, who was formally charged yesterday, would fight the extradition.

Abdeslam, 26, is believed to be the sole surviving member of a 10-man team that attacked a string of restaurants and cafes, the Bataclan concert hall and the Stade de France stadium, leaving 130 dead and hundreds injured. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility.

Abdeslam was nabbed last Friday after a shoot-out during a raid on an apartment in his home neighbourhood of Molenbeek in Brussels.

He was moved to a high-security jail yesterday from a hospital where he was treated for a minor gunshot wound to the leg.

  • The hunt

  • Nov 13, 2015: Hours after the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam flees the city by car.

    Nov 13: The car is stopped at a police checkpoint in the French town of Cambrai, near the Belgian border, but is waved through.

    Nov 23: With Brussels in lockdown, late-night raids in Molenbeek fail to find Abdeslam.

    Jan 8, 2016: Prosecutors say Abdeslam's fingerprints have been found in a Schaerbeek apartment raided in December.

    February: Abdeslam's fiancee is quoted in the media as saying he would die before he would allow himself to be captured.

    March 15: A gunman is shot dead and two others flee as police raid an apartment in Brussels' Forest district. Some reports suggest one of them may have been Abdeslam.

    March 18: Belgium confirms Abdeslam's arrest during a raid in Molenbeek, shortly after announcing his fingerprints were found in the Forest flat.

    SOURCES: NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

His arrest along with that of four other suspects was hailed by European and United States leaders, with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve saying it dealt a "major blow" to ISIS militants operating in Europe.

Following the raid, French President Francois Hollande said that he would push for Abdeslam to be sent back to France as quickly as possible.

Yesterday morning, he met key ministers and security officials to discuss the next steps.

"The operations of the past week have enabled us to incapacitate several individuals who are clearly extremely dangerous and totally determined," said Mr Cazeneuve after the meeting. He also praised the Belgian authorities for their "flawless" commitment to nabbing Abdeslam.

Belgium kept its terror threat unchanged at Level 3, the second- highest level, as Prime Minister Charles Michel warned that the risk of attacks remains.

"We are totally convinced that the fight is not over," he said.

Interpol, in a warning to its 190 members, urged "extra vigilance at border controls", saying that Abdeslam's capture "may encourage any accomplices to attempt to flee Europe, or elsewhere".

The Belgian press hailed the capture as restoring the country's honour, tarnished by perceived intelligence and police blunders before and after the attacks, which appear increasingly to have been planned and coordinated in Brussels.

US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Mr Michel and Mr Hollande on Friday to congratulate them on the capture.

Friday's swoop came after fake passports and Abdeslam's fingerprints were found following a bloody raid last Tuesday in which Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian not on security watch lists, was shot dead.

Abdeslam had been on the run since returning to Brussels hours after the attacks on Nov 13.

His elder brother, Brahim Abdeslam, blew himself up outside a Parisian cafe that night. The younger man's role in the killings was unclear, but investigators said they were sure he helped plan the operation.

Abdeslam and an accomplice, who goes by the name of Amine Choukri, were detained on Friday. Both men sustained minor injuries and were taken to hospital. Three members of a family who the police believe had helped hide Abdeslam were also arrested.

Yesterday, Parisians expressed relief, with some saying they were glad to see Abdeslam face justice.

"There can be a real trial with someone who was clearly involved in the attacks," said Mr Georges Salines, head of a victims' group and whose daughter was killed at the Bataclan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Arrest may shed light on Paris attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe