October 21, 2016

Paris attacks mastermind Abdeslam moved from Belgian hospital to jail

BELGIAN police moved Europe’s most wanted man from hospital to a high-security jail on Saturday, where he will face questions about the Paris attacks and likely charges, a day after his arrest in a Brussels shootout.

Salah Abdeslam, 26, the first person suspected to have played an active part in attacks in Paris to have been taken alive, was held in a Brussels hospital after being shot in the leg during Friday’s police raid near his parents’ home.

He and a second man, identified as Monir Ahmed Alaaj, are expected to appear before a magistrate, who should outline the charges they face and authorise their detention for five days.

Belgian and French prosecutors were also discussing on Saturday how to proceed with the investigation.

Security services will be seeking information from Abdeslam on Islamic State plans and structures, his contacts in Europe and Syria and support networks and finance. Over the past four months, France and Belgium have detained several people linked to the prime suspects but none they suspect of a major role.

French President Francois Hollande, who had been visiting Brussels for a European summit when Friday’s drama unfolded, has said France would seek extradition for the Brussels-based Frenchman. Abdeslam was, Hollande said, definitely in Paris on the bloody night of Friday, November 13 when 130 people were killed.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel summoned security and intelligence chiefs to an emergency sitting of Belgium’s national security council, for the second time in four days, while Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters that authorities had possibly foiled another attack.

“We are very happy to have taken such an important step in the investigation into to Paris attacks, but we’re not at the end of the road,” he said.

Friday’s swoop came after fake passports and Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found following a bloody raid on Tuesday in which Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian not on security watchlists, was shot dead and police officers wounded.


Abdeslam has been on the run for four months after returning from Paris to Brussels hours after the November 13 attacks.

His elder brother, a Brussels barkeeper who shared a chequered history of drugs and petty crime, blew himself up outside a Parisian cafe that night. Hollande said the younger man’s role in the killings was unclear, but investigators were sure he helped plan the operation for the Syria-based group.

Since all the identified attackers were killed, Abdeslam offers France a chance to understand what happened.

Hollande said that many more people were involved in the attacks on a sports stadium, bars and cafes and a concert hall than first thought.

One of those may be Alaaj, who using the false name Amine Choukri had been briefly picked up by German police with Abdeslam in southern Germany in October 2015.

Near to the scene of Friday evening’s raid in the Brussels borough of Molenbeek, Dominique, the owner of a newspaper and tobacco shop who said he knew Abdeslam, said the gunshots had been a shock for the whole community.

“Originally a very nice boy. How can it go that far? That’s something else,” he told Reuters television.


Molenbeek is a down-at-heel borough that is home to many Muslim immigrants, notably of Moroccan descent like Abdeslam’s family. There had long been speculation about whether Abdeslam had stayed in Belgium or managed to flee to Syria.

A man and two women, members of what prosecutors said was “the family which hid Abdeslam,” were detained with the two wanted men and will be questioned. Investigators will want to know how extensive a network, under a code of silence, was able to hide such a high-profile fugitive in a busy inner city neighbourhood just a few hundred yards from his parents’ home.

Security agencies’ difficulties in penetrating some Muslim communities, particularly in pursuit of Belgium’s unusually high number of citizens fighting in Syria, has been a key factor in the inquiry, along with arms dealing in Brussels.

A four-month inquiry that had seemed to go cold, heated up when French and Belgium officers went to an apartment in the southern Brussels suburb of Forest on Tuesday.

Thinking they were simply looking for physical evidence, they were instead confronted by at least two people spraying automatic gunfire at them as they opened the door.

Then on Friday, local media reported, a tapped telephone confirmed that Abdeslam was in the house in rue des Quatre-Vents in Molenbeek. After French media broke word that Abdeslam’s fingerprints had been found, police moved in and seized him.

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