Prime suspect in Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam captured

Europe’s most wanted man wounded as four-month search ends in Brussels

Armed Belgian police apprehend a suspect in this still image taken from video, in Molenbeek,  Brussels. Photograph: Reuters

Armed Belgian police apprehend a suspect in this still image taken from video, in Molenbeek, Brussels. Photograph: Reuters

 

Police were preparing to question Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the November terrorist attacks on Paris, after the 26-year-old was shot in the leg and arrested in a police raid in Brussels.

He had been on the run for four months as Europe’s most wanted man. “We got him,” the Belgian secretary of state for asylum and migration tweeted after armed police units carried out a series of raids on buildings in the Molenbeek area of Brussels, where Abdeslam grew up.

Despite one of Europe’s biggest manhunts following the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, the fugitive had returned to his home turf in Molenbeek, where his parents still live. He managed to stay hidden in the area, which is viewed by police as a centre of recruitment and planning for jihadi terrorism.

Abdeslam, a French national of Moroccan background who grew up in Belgium, was caught alive at about 6pm local time in a vast but relatively short security operation in Molenbeek, just over an hour after heavy armed police squads descended on several addresses at once. Armed officers in riot gear could be heard shouting, “come out with your hands up” in front of one building, before grenades appeared to be used and gunfire was heard.

Important result

Charles Michel

Hollande said Abdeslam would be quickly extradited to France, adding that the investigation was ongoing because the network was “very large in Belgium, France and other European countries”.

French media reported that Abdeslam had attempted to flee a building on foot and was shot below his knee. He was taken to hospital for treatment. French TV footage, which had not been officially authenticated, showed a man in a white hooded top and cap, apparently with an injured leg, being bundled into a police car.

Georges Fenech, head of a French parliamentary inquiry commission into the Paris attacks, said the arrest meant that a court case could now go ahead against one of the attackers, while the others had been killed or blown themselves up on the night.

But Abdeslam’s arrest was also clearly far from the end for the investigation – many more people are being sought and the fact that he remained hidden for so long in Brussels shows the strength of the network there.

Yesterday’s police operation was launched just as Belgian prosecutors confirmed that Abdeslam’s fingerprints had been found at a flat that was raided in the Forest area of Brussels on Tuesday.

When police arrived to search the flat, they were met with gunfire. A police sniper shot one of the gunmen through a window. He was Mohamed Belkaïd, a 35-year-old Algerian living illegally in Belgium. The prosecutor’s office said Belkaïd was “more than likely” one of the key logistics operatives behind the Paris attacks. – (Guardian service)