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Saturday 19 August 2017

'We got him' - police capture Paris attacks suspect in terror raid

Belgian Police take a man during the raid. Photo: Reuters
Belgian Police take a man during the raid. Photo: Reuters
Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam Salah. Photo: Reuters
Belgian policemen during the raid
Police officers with dogs during the raid

Questions were raised last night as to how Europe's most wanted man managed to evade police, apparently hiding in the same Brussels neighbourhood for four months.

"We got him" were the words Belgium's immigration minister, Theo Francken, used to announce the capture of Salah Abdeslam.

Thought to be the last surviving member of the 10-strong commando group that carried out the Paris terror attacks, Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels along with four other suspects.

Three members of the same family were arrested, plus a man called Amine Choukri, who had a false identity and had been previously seen in Ulm, Germany with Abdeslam.

Battle

Francois Hollande, the French president, said that the number of suspects wanted over the Paris attacks was much higher than previously thought.

Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, described the arrests as "a very important result in the battle for democracy". Mr Hollande asked for Abdeslam to be extradited to France "as soon as possible", a request the Belgians said was a "formality".

The French president, who was in Brussels for an EU summit on the migrant crisis, added: "We are aware that if this arrest is an important step, it is not the definitive conclusion.

"We know that the network was very wide in Belgium, France and other European countries. We must continue to pursue our efforts."

While he and Mr Michel were "congratulated" by phone by US president Barack Obama, neither would be drawn over claims of woeful intelligence blunders. Abdeslam was seized after four months on the run and a series of excruciating near misses.

A lack of information-sharing between Belgium and France saw the prime suspect waltz through three police checks in France hours after the commandos massacred 130 in Paris. He is then thought to have outfoxed police by hiding in a sofa. Then there were reports that he had hidden in another flat outside Brussels for three weeks after his fingerprints were found there.

In the end police trapped the 26-year old a few hundred yards from where he grew up and where he was last spotted the day after the Paris attacks - in Molenbeek, the suburb home to several of the Paris gunmen and which has been described as a "den of Islamists".

Wounded in the knee during the raid, Abedslam "instantly" confirmed his identity from his hospital bed.

Earlier, volleys of shots and explosions rang out as the police operation unfolded. Officers reportedly homed in on Abdeslam after he phoned a known contact in search of a place to stay.

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