PARIS—Nearly six months after the Paris attacks, top surviving suspect Salah Abdeslam appeared at a courthouse in the French capital, just hours after his extradition from Belgium.
A 26-year-old Frenchman, who lived Brussels, Abdeslam had been on the run since the November 13 bombings and shootings around Paris. He was caught last month, just days before the March 22 Brussels bombings that appear closely tied to those in Paris. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Abdeslam was to appear Wednesday before investigating magistrates in Paris.
Will speak in court
The suspect’s French lawyer Frank Berton said his client would not “remain silent.”
“He wants to explain and, I think, collaborate with the French justice,” Berton told France’s BFMTV earlier in the day, describing his client as “broken.”
Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris attacks that included renting cars and at least one safe house for the assailants. He fled the French capital hours after the attacks, getting friends to pick him up and drive him back to Brussels.
Targeting Paris nightspots including the Bataclan concert hall, along with a soccer stadium outside the capital, the November attacks killed 130 people and injured more than 300. Abdeslam is believed to be the only direct participant to have survived; the other attackers, including his older brother Brahim, either blew themselves up or were killed by police.
“We’re relieved” at Abdeslam’s transfer to France, said Georges Salines, president of November 13 Brotherhood and Truth, a group made up of Paris attack survivors and their families.
“We want Salah Abdeslam to be tried for his personal responsibility in the November 13 attacks. He played an active role. And he knows many things, so he has a lot of stuff to tell investigators about the operation,” Salines, whose daughter was killed in the attacks, added in an interview.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office announced Abdeslam’s arrival in France in a terse statement that said only that “Salah Abdeslam has been surrendered to the French authorities this morning.” The Paris prosecutor’s office added he had arrived in France at 09:05 am, local time.
Reports say he had been flown across the border and, at least for now, will be detained in isolation at the Fleury Merogis Prison south of Paris.
Questioning in Belgium
Since his arrest March 18, Abdeslam has been held for questioning in Belgium, where he also faces charges of attempted murder related to his alleged role in a shootout with Belgian police shortly before his capture.
He was initially talkative, telling investigators he wanted to blow himself up with the other Paris assailants before changing his mind. Officials also described Abdeslam as saying he had “planned to start something in Brussels.” But soon after his capture, he stopped talking, allegedly because the information was passed on to the media.
Four days after his arrest, suicide bombers struck the Brussels airport and the Maelbeek metro station, killing 32 people and wounding scores of others. The Airport has partially reopened, and the metro station reopened on Monday.
Belgian prosecutors say evidence suggests the Brussels assailants wanted to strike France again, but later switched their target to Belgian capital as the Paris investigation sped up.
There appears to be a tangle of connections between the two attacks. One of the suicide bombers in the Brussels bombings, 24-year-old Belgian-Moroccan Najim Laachraoui, was considered the bomb maker in both the Paris and Brussels assaults. Another, Mohamed Abrini, initially identified as the “man in the hat” caught in a video at the Brussels airport with the two suicide bombers, is also believed to be involved in the Paris attacks.
A childhood friend of Abdeslam, Abrini was arrested by police earlier this month.
Others are suspected of collaborating in both attacks.
Abdeslam’s cross-border defense team will reportedly be made up of Berton and another, yet-to-be-identified French lawyer, along with his celebrity lawyer Sven Mary in Belgium.
In an interview published Tuesday in France’s Liberation newspaper, Mary was less than complimentary about his client, using a pejorative to describe him, most kindly translated as “little idiot.”
Abdeslam was a petty criminal, he said, who “lived” in a world of video games and had read “his interpretation” of the Koran on the Internet.
“He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray,” Mary added.