Monday 5 December 2016

'We got him' - Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam captured in Brussels raids

• Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam 'arrested and wounded'

• Three suspects were detained in the Brussels raid

• Another unnamed suspect reportedly killed after shootout

• Abdeslam's fingerprints found in earlier Brussels raid

• Brussels suburb notorious as base for the terrorists

• Belgian immigration minister: "We got him."

 

Published 18/03/2016 | 16:43

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium
Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Armed Belgian police secure the area upon their arrival in Molenbeeck, near Brussels, Belgium. Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam, one of the main suspects from November's Paris attacks was arrested after a shootout with police in Brussels on Friday. Reuters/VTM
Police evacuate a woman and a small child during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels. (AP Photo/Geoffrey Van der Hasselt)
Emergency vehicles travel along a street blocked by armed police officers during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. (Aaron Hamerlynck via AP)

One of the main suspects in the Paris attacks from last November, Salah Abdeslam, was among five people who were detained in a raid in Brussels last night, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has announced.

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Abdeslam, the 26-year-old suspect who has been on the run for four months, was said to have been wounded in the leg during the raid.

The suspects detained tonight include three members of a family who allegedly sheltered Abdeslam.

France's BFM television broadcast images of police tugging a man with a white hooded sweatshirt toward a police car, as he dragged his left leg as if it were injured.

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken, confirmed the news that Abdeslam had been arrested on Twitter.

He simply tweeted: "We got him".

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said tonight: "This evening is a success in fight against terrorism."

The police operation that captured the most wanted fugitive from November's Paris attacks four months ago ended this evening before 7.40pm.

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Several bursts of gunfire rang out earlier in the capital's Molenbeek area - the scene of past investigations into the Paris attacks - and police officers were seen surrounding an apartment block there from around 4 pm (3pm Irish time).

Two other people believed to be linked to the attacks were still being sought, including fellow Molenbeek resident Mohamed Abrini and a man known under the alias of Soufiane Kayal.

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

At a joint news conference with the Belgian prime minister, French President Francois Hollande said Abdeslam had been formally identified.

He congratulated the Belgian government for an operation that lasted several weeks and said the investigation was not over and more arrests will come.

Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium
Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium

The Belgian prosecutor said five people were detained in total in the Brussels raids, including three who sheltered fugitive Abdeslam.

Authorities said Abdeslam was among several attackers who targeted cafes, a rock concert and a stadium in Paris' deadliest attacks in decades, which killed 130 people.

READ MORE: Salah Abdeslam: What we know about the most wanted man in the world  

Belgian Police descended in force late this afternoon to search a residence in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels.

Police faced armed resistance during the raid that captured Abdeslam, the Belgian prime minister revealed.

Mr Hollande said the operation was "very dangerous and took exceptional courage".

He said the threat level everywhere in Belgium and France remained high.

France will also seek the extradition of Abdeslam, Mr Hollande said.

The French president revealed that more people were involved in the November plot to attack Paris than authorities initially thought.

He said authorities needed to detain everyone who in any way allowed, organised or facilitated the attacks, adding "such people are much more numerous than anyone could have imagined".

Today's caputure of Abdeslam comes after Belgian authorities said they found his fingerprints in an apartment raided earlier this week in another Brussels neighbourhood.

In that raid, a man believed to have been an accomplice of Abdeslam - Mohamed Belkaid - was shot dead, Belgian prosecutors say. But two men escaped from the apartment, one of whom appears to have been Abdeslam.

READ MORE: Islamic State flag and Kalashnikov found in Brussels suspect's apartment  

Federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said it was possible Abdeslam had spent "days, weeks or months" in the apartment.

Abdeslam fled Paris after the November 13 attacks. Most of the Paris attackers died that night, including Abdeslam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up.

Brussels-born Salah Abdeslam, a childhood friend of suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is believed to have driven a group of gunmen who took part.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which Belgian nationals played key roles.

Helmeted police with riot shields cordoned off the area this evening, and two explosions were heard.

Abdeslam slipped through a police dragnet to return to Brussels after the bloodbath in Paris, and though the target of an international manhunt, had not been found.

At one point during today's police operation, a phalanx of officers in camouflage, masks and riot helmets marched through the neighbourhood with guns and automatic weapons drawn, escorting people out of buildings.

Abdeslam's exact role in the attacks is not clear. The car he drove was abandoned in northern Paris, and his mobile phone and an explosive vest he had apparently used were later found in the Paris suburb of Montrouge, raising the possibility that he aborted his mission, either ditching a malfunctioning vest - or fleeing in fear.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which Belgian nationals played key roles.

On Tuesday, a joint team of Belgian and French police showed up to search a residence in the Forest area of Brussels in connection with the Paris investigation. They were unexpectedly fired upon by at least two people inside. Four officers were slightly wounded.

An occupant of the residence was shot dead by a police sniper as he prepared to open fire on police from a window. Police identified him as Belkaid, 35, an Algerian national living illegally in Belgium.

A Kalashnikov assault rifle was found by his body, as well as a book on Salafism, an ultraconservative strain of Islam. Elsewhere in the apartment, police found an Islamic State banner as well as 11 Kalashnikov loaders and a large quantity of ammunition, the prosecutor said.

Belgian authorities initially said Belkaid had no known background in radical Islamic activities. But on Friday afternoon, prosecutors issued a statement saying he was "most probably" an accomplice of Abdeslam who had been using a fake Belgian ID card in the name of Samir Bouzid.

A man using that ID card was one of the two men seen with Abdeslam in a rental car on the Hungarian-Austrian border in September.

READ MORE: Secret agents swoop on four people 'to foil terror attack' in Paris  

Four days after the November 13 Paris attacks, the same false ID card was used to transfer money to Hasna Ait Boulahcen, Abaaoud's niece. Both Ait Boulahcen and Abaaoud died afterward in a police siege.

Abdeslam slipped through a police lockdown to return to Brussels after the bloodbath in Paris, and though the target of an international manhunt, has not been found since.

In January, Belgian authorities said one of his fingerprints was found alongside homemade suicide bomb belts at an apartment in another area of Brussels.

Belgian prosecutors said it was not known whether he had been at the address in the Schaerbeek district before or after the Paris attacks, or how long he had spent there.

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