French President Francois Hollande and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announce the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the most-wanted fugitive from November’s Paris attacks.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (MARCH 18, 2016) (REUTERS) – The most-wanted fugitive from November’s Paris attacks was arrested after a shootout with police in Brussels, French President Francois Hollande and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news briefing on Friday (March 18).
Local media reported that Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old French suspect, was wounded in the operation as EU leaders met on the other side of the city to discuss Europe’s migration crisis.
Hollande said he was sure Abdeslam, whose elder brother blew himself up at a Parisian cafe on November 13, had been in the city the night of the Paris attacks and had helped plan the attack.
“Salah Abdeslam has been arrested with two accomplices and he has been formally identified. My thoughts go to the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris and St. Denis, because Salah Abdeslam is directly involved in the preparation, the organisation and, sadly, the perpetration of these attacks,” Hollande told reporters.
The French leader said he was confident the three had links to Syria and to Islamic State which claimed the attacks that killed 130 people. He added that it was now clear many more people had been involved in the Paris attacks on a sports stadium, bars and cafes and concert hall than had been realised.
“We must catch all those who allowed, organised or facilitated these attacks and we realise, without going into the details of the investigation, that they are a lot more numerous than we thought earlier and had identified,” Hollande said.
Michel described the capture Abdeslam and two others as “a very important result in the battle for democracy”.
“We know very well that the battle against terrorism, the battle for freedom, the battle for democratic values, sadly, will not end tonight, even if clearly it’s a victory that we can see tonight thanks to the extraordinary work of our security services,” Michel said, before adding that U.S. President Barack Obama sent his congratulations.
Hollande said France wanted to extradite Abdeslam, who was born and raised in Brussels to a Moroccan immigrant family, and hoped he would yield more clarity about an operation mounted by Syria-based Islamic State in which all the known attackers died.
There had long been speculation about whether Abdeslam had stayed in Belgium or managed to flee to Syria. Security services will be seeking information from Abdeslam on Islamic State plans and structures, his contacts in Europe and Syria and support networks and finance.