Saturday 1 October 2016

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

John Lichfield and Leo Cendrowicz Paris and Brussels

Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30

Special operations police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. Two French police officials have told The Associated Press that Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive from Islamic extr
Special operations police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. Two French police officials have told The Associated Press that Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive from Islamic extr
Salah Abdelslam

Europe's most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, was wounded and captured in a police raid in his home district of Brussels last night after four months on the run.

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Abdeslam (26) believed to be the only survivor of the jihadist death squad which killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, was shot in the leg when an elite police squad stormed a flat in Molenbeek in the western suburbs of the Belgian capital.

His capture was a welcome coup for the Belgian security forces after a series of bungled arrest attempts and unsuccessful raids over the past four months.

"We got him," the jubilant Belgian junior minister for asylum and migration, Theo Francken, boasted on Twitter.

Abdeslam is now known to have been one of the two men who escaped a police raid on a flat in southern Brussels on Tuesday. His fingerprints were identified yesterday morning on a glass found in the flat, triggering a series of police raids which ended in his capture last night.

Another man was also injured and then caught in yesterday's raid on the flat in the Rue des Quatre Vents in the Molenbeek district - only a few hundred metres from the café that was once run by Abdeslam and his older brother Brahim.

Marksman

Police sources said that Abdeslam had been besieged there for more than an hour before a police marksman "immobilised him" by shooting him in the leg, after which he was captured.

The second man arrested was named as Soufyane Kayal, said to be an associate of a suspect killed on Tuesday. A third man was still in the flat last night.

Abdeslam's capture may finally solve the mystery of why he apparently fled from the Paris massacre without detonating his own explosives. His brother Brahim was one of four terrorists who blew themselves up that night.

Salah is known to have been one of the organisers of the attacks, driving three suicide bombers to the Stade de France stadium before parking his hire car in northern Paris. He is then believed to have dumped a suicide vest after calling two friends in Brussels and asking them to drive for three hours to Paris to collect him.

His name has been excised from all propaganda issued by the Isil in the wake of the attacks. This has led to speculation that he might be as much on the run from Isil as from Europe's police forces.

Rumours have swirled for weeks about his possible whereabouts, with reports that he fled to Morocco or - implausibly - to the Isil-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq.

He was finally trapped yesterday in the Brussels suburb where he was brought up.

Volleys of gunfire were heard after elite police squads surrounded an apartment block as a helicopter circled overhead. White fumes, possibly tear gas or stun gas, were seen rising over the rooftops.

The French President François Hollande and the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel left an EU leaders' meeting on the migration crisis, which had entered its second day on the other side of Brussels.

Police sources told the Belgian TV station RTBF that Abdeslam's hideout had been discovered when he telephoned a friend who was under surveillance. The friend offered to hide him at his mother's flat at the Rue des Quatre Vents. A raid was initially planned for today but was brought forward after news leaked of the identification of Abdeslam's finger prints in the flat raided on Tuesday, in the Forest area of southern Brussels.

Earlier, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office named the Algerian killed in Tuesday's raids as Mohamed Belkaid, alias Samir Bouzid, a known associate of Abdeslam and Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the leader of the Paris attacks. A black Isil flag and a book on Salafism, the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, were found in the flat.

Bouzid had been sought since December when police published closed-circuit images of him sending money to Paris two days after the November 13 massacres. The money was sent to a cousin of Abbaoud, who died with him when police stormed their hideout on November 18.

Belgian police say that they did not expect to find anyone when they knocked on the door of the house in Rue du Dries on Tuesday. Although the six police officers - four Belgian and two French - were armed and wearing bullet-proof jackets, they also failed to anticipate that the suspects might flee through the first-floor window, into the back alleys and gardens, and along roofs.

No such blunders appear to have been made yesterday.

Irish Independent

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