Salah Abdeslam, the world’s most wanted man, was captured Friday in the district of Molenbeek in a dramatic shoot-out involving Brussels special forces and police officers.
Abdeslam, 26, is considered to be one of the driving characters in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people on November 13.
“We got him,” Theo Francken, Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, announced on Twitter.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 18, 2016
Most of the Paris terrorists died that November night, but Abdeslam had been on the run since then. The Guardian indicated that the raid was dramatic and surrounded by media who recorded the shooting, a couple of explosions, white smoke coming out of an apartment building and a helicopter hovering overhead. Police dressed in black surrounded the building. Along with Abdeslam, a second person was arrested during the operation.
USA Today reported that the fugitive’s movements had been tracked through fingerprints and DNA evidence taken from a glass during another raid on a flat in Brussels. The Forest suburb apartment had been rented shortly after the Paris attacks, indicating that it had been intended for a safehouse. On Tuesday, during a police raid, two suspects fled and a third was shot dead by a sniper when he tried to fire his weapon through a window.
Upon entering the flat, investigators found a book on Salafism (ultra-conservative Islam, believed by some to be extremist) and a Kalashnikov rifle next to the shooter’s body. Aljazeera.com reported that the shooter was identified as 35-year-old Algerian, Mohamed Belkaid.
“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.”
Belkaid is believed to have gone under the alias of Samir Bouzid, and thought to have directed the Paris attackers via calls from Belgium, according to the prosecutor’s office. He also helped with transferring funds for the Paris attack effort.
Another Paris terror suspect captured, and he’s alive. Would it be more tactically prudent to tell everyone he’s… https://t.co/UfQS5Ut2MS
— NewsRadio1620 (@NR1620) March 18, 2016
The discovery of evidence led authorities to believe that the Brussels-born French national Abdeslam was still in the area, and had not fled to Syria as originally thought. He was found hiding in another house today, and was shot in the knee during his escape attempt.
BBC News reported that Abdeslam was dubbed a “coward” since he chose to flee Paris instead of detonating a suicide vest. Abdeslam escaped the fate of his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire cafe.
Apparently, Abdeslam had no inclinations toward suicide, since he had lined up an attorney for himself at some point last winter. According to DW.com, the fugitive had been in touch with Brussels defense attorney Sven Mary. Although he declined to go into detail, Mary told Le Soir newspaper in December that he would agree to represent Abdeslam “because he wanted to fight the ‘abuse of power’ on the part of authorities who were using the Paris attacks for ‘surfing on fear to get even more power.'”
According to the Las Vegas Sun, the Paris attacks were instigated by a web of crime that spanned across borders throughout Europe and into Syria. Investigators have piecemealed the facts together based on reports from friends, acquaintances, family members, and anyone else who may have had information.
EuroNews tweeted that three family members who were giving shelter to the terrorists were arrested today, according to the prosecutor. Mirror.com named these as Abid A., Sihane A. and M. Jamila.
Mirror.com reported that one other person was arrested along with Abdeslam, also wounded, Alahaj Monir Ahmed. A third is believed to be holed up in an apartment at the scene in Brussels, Belgium, and a police operation is still ongoing. It is not known if this person is Mohammed Abrini, who was filmed in a car with Abdeslam before the Paris attack, and is still a fugitive.
Minister of Interior and Security Jan Jambon said the raid was planned last night.
“There are names on the list of those who were to be arrested that are missing. So we’re definitely not done.”
UPDATE March 19
Abdeslam has been charged with terrorist murder. According to BBC News, Abdeslam is fighting extradition to France, although he is cooperating with police. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said that Abdeslam had changed his mind about suicide.
“Salah Abdeslam today during questioning by [Belgian] investigators affirmed that, and I quote, ‘he wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and that he had backed down’.”
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 19, 2016
Investigators are hoping that Abdeslam will reveal more information about the Islamic State Group, which is taking credit for the Paris attacks.
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