Paris attacks: Salah Abdeslam arrested in Brussels

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, often referred to as Europe’s most wanted man, arrested in Belgian swoop.

salah abdelsmalm
Salah Abdeslam, 26, has been on the run for months since the attacks in November in Paris which left 130 people dead [EPA]

Salah Abdeslam, the most wanted suspect for the Paris attacks, has been arrested in a shootout with heavily-armed police in the Belgian capital after eluding capture for months.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and French President Francois Hollande confirmed the arrest on Friday at a press conference in Brussels.

They are far more numerous than we thought.

by French President Francois Hollande

“It was a success against terrorism,” said Michel, as he congratulated the security forces who carried out the raid.

READ MORE: Hollande calls Paris attacks an ‘act of war’

France’s Hollande said “police were confronted with armed resistance” from the suspects during the raid, adding that the fight against “terrorism” was far from over.

“Though this arrest was an important step, it is not the final result. There will be further arrests. We know the network is extensive in Belgium, France and other countries,” he said.

“What we need to do is arrest all of those who allowed, organised and facilitated these attacks [in Paris]. We have realised, without going into details, they are far more numerous than we thought.”

Hollande added that he had “no doubt that the [French] judicial authorities will request an extradition”. 

The four-month manhunt for 26-year-old Abdeslam came to an end in the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek with the suspect shot in the leg, according to Ahmed El Khannous, the neighbourhood’s deputy mayor.

Four other people, including members of a family who harboured Abdeslam, were also arrested, said Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt. He confirmed that Abdeslam was lightly injured during the raid and had been transferred to hospital.

READ MORE: A message from Molenbeek: ‘We are not terrorists’

Footage showed heavily-armed police dragging a man whose face was covered by a white hood into the street and bundling him into the back of a waiting unmarked car. It was not clear from the pictures if the man was Abdeslam.

Fingerprints found

Earlier, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said Abdeslam’s fingerprints had been found in a separate raid this week.

Who is Salah Abdeslam?

Born in Brussels, Salah Abdeslam is a 26-year-old French national and the brother of 31-year-old Brahim Abdeslam who blew himself up on November 13 in the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant.

He was at one point suspected of having joined his older sibling in targeting restaurants and bars during the Paris attacks, but his exact role in the violence has yet to be determined.

Investigators know that he was in Paris and believe that he at the very least offered logistical support to the attackers. They are considering whether he planned to carry out his own attack, but backed out.

After four months on the run, he was arrested in Belgium on March 18.

His prints were discovered in an apartment in the neighbourhood of Forest, in south Brussels, after that raid on Tuesday.

Local media said the evidence showed it was “more than likely” that Abdeslam was one of two people who escaped the operation, in which one gunman was shot dead by a police sniper.

The suspect killed was named as 35-year-old Algerian, Mohamed Belkaid.

Investigators said that, when they later entered the flat, they found a book on Salafism and a Kalashnikov rifle next to Belkaid’s body.

They also discovered a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in the flat, as well as a large amount of ammunition. No explosives were found, the prosecutor said.

Abdeslam, a French national, was born in Brussels and once lived in the city.

READ MORE: ‘You’re in the bar, then there are dead people’

Police believe that he was directly involved in the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, as armed men and suicide bombers targeted the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall, cafes and bars.

He is suspected of renting the car that delivered attackers to the Bataclan concert hall where more than 80 people were killed.

He fled the city after the attacks, which were claimed by ISIL. Hours later, he was stopped and questioned by police at the French-Belgian border before he was allowed through.

Several of the suspected attackers had links to neighbouring Belgium.

Abdeslam’s older brother was among the suicide bombers who killed themselves during the rampage. The younger Abdeslam was driven back to Brussels from Paris hours later.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies