Top Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man, was wounded and captured in a raid by armed police in Brussels today after four months on the run.
Abdeslam, 26, who is believed to have played a key logistical role in the November 13 attacks claimed by the Islamic State group that left 130 people dead, sustained a leg injury in the raid, French police said.
“We got him,” said Belgium’s Immigration Minister Theo Francken.
This undated file photo provided by the Belgian Federal Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris. Photo / AP
The Franco-Moroccan is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-strong commando team that carried out the worst ever terror attack on French soil.
He is thought to have fled to Brussels the day after the gun and bombing rampage on Paris nightspots after refusing to blow himself up.
His capture came just a day after his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in the massacre, was buried in a discreet ceremony on Thursday in Brussels.
A witness told AFP the operation began at around 1530 GMT when dozens of police cars swooped into the gritty Molenbeek neighbourhood of the Belgian capital.
“I heard about three or four shots fired, but they were muffled as if taking place indoors,” said Karim, an Oxfam charity employee who lives in the largely Molenbeek.
The arrest came hours after prosecutors revealed that Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found in an apartment in another part of Brussels following a raid earlier this week in which a suspected IS militant was killed.
In this framegrab taken from VTM, armed police officers lift a suspect from the ground to be escorted to a police vehicle during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium. Photo / AP
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel held a crisis meeting after the arrest with French President Francois Hollande, who was in Brussels for a European Union summit.
Belgium has been at the centre of the investigation into the Paris attacks almost from day one, and has come under fire for alleged blunders that let the perpetrators slip under the radar.
Abdeslam fled to Brussels after the attacks and is believed to have holed up in a flat for at least three weeks evading detection by the Belgian police.
Police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium. Photo / AP
He slipped past three police checks in France as he fled to Belgium just hours after the terror assaults, a source close to the probe said in December.
Investigators believe Abdeslam hired one of he cars used in the attacks and then used it to drive suicide bombers to the Stade de France with the task to then blow himself up.
But he apparently backed out, and an explosives-filled suicide vest was later found in Paris in a region that mobile phone signals indicated he had been in.
Police believe he fled across the border the next morning.
Several people have been arrested on suspicion of helping him.
The ringleader of the attacks, IS member Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also from Brussels. He was killed in a raid in Paris in November.
This framegrab taken from APTN shows an armed police officer during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium. Photo / AP
Another of the Paris attackers, Bilal Hadfi, was last week buried quietly in the same cemetery as Abdeslam’s brother.
Both had links to Molenbeek, a largely immigrant district which has been a hotbed of Islamist violence for decades.
Abdeslam and his brother had run a bar in the area until it was shut down by the authorities a few weeks before the Paris attacks.
Earlier this week, Belgian and French police raided an apartment in the Forest district of Brussels, shooting dead a 35-year-old Algerian identified as Mohamed Belkaid, who was living illegally in Belgium.
Police found a Kalashnikov assault rifle, extremist Islamic literature and an IS flag near Belkaid after he was shot.He was reportedly on a list of IS fighters leaked last week as a volunteer to commit a suicide bomb attack.
Prosecutors then announced on Friday that Abdeslam’s fingerprints had been found in the Forest apartment.
Another Abdeslam fingerprint was found in December in a different Brussels apartment, where investigators believe the fugitive hid for three weeks immediately following the attacks.
Prosecutors also said that the man killed in the Forest shootout was very likely a suspect wanted by police in connection with the Paris attacks.
Investigations show that “the so-called Samir Bouzir, against whom a wanted notice was issued, most probably is the Algerian national Mohamed Belkaid” killed Tuesday, a statement said.
Authorities in December determined that a fake identity card in Bouzir’s name was used to wire 750 euros from a Brussels Western Union office to the cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud four days after the massacre in the French capital.
Another three suspects are still on the run, while 11 people have been charged in connection with the November 13 bloodbath in the French capital that claimed 130 lives.
Three others are behind bars elsewhere.
This framegrab taken from APTN shows armed police officers during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium. Photo / AP
Here is a summary of the main suspects:
The latest capture
• Salah Abdeslam, 26, a Belgian-born French national, is believed to have played a key logistical role in the attacks, and fled across the border to Belgium hours after the killings. He and his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in Paris, had run a bar together in Molenbeek that was shut down by the authorities just weeks before the massacre. Friends and locals had said they were fond of drink and a joint and that there was no sign they were radical Islamists with murderous intent.
Three on the run
• Mohamed Abrini, 30, was filmed with Abdeslam on November 11 at a filling station on a motorway linking Paris and Brussels.
• “Samir Bouzid” and “Soufiane Kayal” are the names on false Belgian identity cards presented by two individuals checked at the frontier between Austria and Hungary on September 9 with Abdeslam.
11 charged in Belgium
• Mohammed Amri, 27, and Hamza Attou, 21, brought Abdeslam back to Belgium several hours after the Paris attacks.
• Lazez Abraimi, a 39-year-old Moroccan living in the Brussels region, arrested after traces of blood and two handguns were found in his car.
• Ali Oulkadi, a 31-year-old French national, drove Abdeslam through Brussels the day after the attacks and dropped him off at a safehouse used as a workshop for manufacturing of explosive belts.
• Abdeilah Chouaa, 30. His name was discovered in the prison cell of a man detained in the southern Belgian city of Namur whom Abdeslam phoned on the evening of November 13.
• Mohamed Bakkali: a BMW car which he hired was seen in the immediate proximity of three safe-houses in which the Paris attacks were prepared.
• Samir Z: A French national born in 1995 was arrested in late November at Brussels airport when he was on the point of leaving for Morocco. He was freed in February.
• Pierre N: A Belgian born in 1987, close to Paris suicide bomber Bilal Hadfi. He was remanded in custody until late December.
• Abdoullah C., born 1985, of Belgian nationality, had on several occasions talked on the telephone with Hasna Aitboulahcen, the young woman who was killed with suspected mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud outside Paris five days after the attacks.
• Ayoub Bazarouj: a 22-year-old Belgian living in the Brussels’ district of Molenbeek where investigators mistakenly thought they had tracked down Abdeslam three days after the attacks. He was freed on January 22.
• Zakaria J., born in 1986 and of Belgian nationality. Reportedly a friend of Abaaoud.
Three held elsewhere
• Ahmed Dahmani, 26: A Belgian of Moroccan origin, he was arrested in Turkey where he arrived from Amsterdam the day after the Paris attacks. Believed to be heading to Syria when he was stopped, he is suspected of helping chose the targets in Paris.
• A Belgian of Moroccan origin identified as Gelel Attar by Brussels prosecutors was arrested in Morocco on January 18 on suspicion of having direct ties to the Paris attackers.
• An Algerian residing in Belgium and suspected of having links with the Paris attacks was arrested on February 27 in Algeria. Algerian press reports identified him as Zouhir Mehdaoui, 29, a close associate of Abaaoud.