He drank, smoked and went to casinos

Abdeslam is said to have been in charge of logistics for the attacks.
Abdeslam is said to have been in charge of logistics for the attacks.

PARIS • Salah Abdeslam showed little sign of religious fervour before the November Paris attacks.

He was known to enjoy a beer and a joint in the bar he ran with his older brother Brahim in the Brussels district of Molenbeek.

The bar was shut down two weeks before the Nov 13 attacks after police said it was used "for the consumption of banned hallucinogenic substances".

A Molenbeek resident, who identified himself only as Youssef, said the brothers were "friends of ours, big smokers, big drinkers, but not radicals".

But 26-year-old Abdeslam certainly knew radicals, having come into contact with another Molenbeek resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is believed to have masterminded the Paris attacks.

Abdeslam was fired from his job as a tram technician for skipping work in 2011. Around the same time he was arrested for robbery along with Abaaoud.

Abdeslam also started gambling in casinos.

Then, possibly preparing for the attacks, he crisscrossed Europe, visiting Greece, then Austria and Hungary, at a time when tens of thousands of migrants were transiting Europe from Syria and Iraq.

It was not just his disappearance that made Abdeslam the enigma of the Paris attacks. Prosecutors believe he was in charge of logistics - he rented the cars the attackers used to travel to Paris, and booked their lodgings.

His brother Brahim detonated his suicide vest in a Paris bar as at least eight other ISIS attackers were shooting and blowing up 130 people who had been enjoying a Friday night out in the French capital.

It is possible Abdeslam drove three suicide bombers to the Stade de France stadium and he appears to have also been in central Paris where his accomplices were carrying out their slaughter. But the evidence suggests he backed out of detonating his own suicide vest. He had been on the run for 126 days.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'He drank, smoked and went to casinos'. Print Edition | Subscribe