The only suspected participant in the November 13th Paris attacks to be captured alive has been cooperating with police investigators and is “worth his weight in gold”, his lawyer said on Monday.
Belgium's interior minister Jan Jambon said the country was on high alert for a possible revenge attack following the capture of 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam in a flat in Brussels on Friday.
“We know that stopping one cell can ...push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” he told public radio.
French investigator Francois Molins told a news conference in Paris on Saturday that Abdeslam had admitted to investigators he had wanted to blow himself up along with others at the Stade de France on the night of the attack claimed by Islamic State; but he later backed out.
Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary, said he would sue Mr Molins for making the comment public, calling it a violation of judicial confidentiality.
Mr Mary said Abdeslam was now fully co-operating with investigators. "I think that Salah Abdeslam is of prime importance for this investigation. I would even say he is worth his weight in gold. He is collaborating. He is communicating. He is not maintaining his right to remain silent," Mr Mary told Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.
As the only suspected participant or planner of the Paris attack in police custody, Abdeslam would be seen by investigators as a possible major source of information on others involved, in support networks, finance and links with Islamic State in Syria. There would also be urgent interest in finding out what further attacks might be planned.
DNA of second suspect discovered
Belgian prosecutors said in a statement on Monday that they are looking for Najim Laachraoui (25) who is using the alias Soufiane Kayal.
They are appealing to the public for information about Laachraoui who allegedly travelled to Syria in February 2013, and to Hungary last September with Abdeslam. The statement said Laachraoui was checked by guards at the Austria-Hungary border while driving in a Mercedes with Abdeslam.
Laachraoui's DNA had been found in houses in Belgium used by the Paris attackers. In one of the houses on Rue Henri Berg, investigators found traces of TATP, which has become the signature explosive for Islamic State operations in Europe. It can be made with common household products and was an ingredient in the suicide vests used in the Paris assaults.
Lead Belgian investigator Frederic Van Leeuw told a news conference on Monday he was unsure of Laachraoui’s role, however some media suggested he may have been the group’s “armourer”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Sunday that Abdeslam may have been plotting more operations drawing on a weapons discovered in the Forest district of Brussels and a network of associates.
Mr Jambon said he could not confirm that, but it was a possibility. “After 18 months of dealing with this terrorist issue, I have learned that when the terrorists and weapons are in the same place, and that’s what we saw in Forest, we are close to an attack. I’m not saying it is evidence. But yes, there are indications,” he said.
Mr Reynders said Belgium and France had so far found around 30 people involved in the gun and bomb attacks on bars, a sports stadium and a concert hall in the French capital.