Top fugitive in Paris attacks captured in Brussels raid

Raf Casert
Associated Press

Brussels — Police raiding an apartment building captured Europe’s most wanted fugitive Friday, arresting the prime suspect in last year’s deadly Paris attacks in the same Brussels neighborhood where he grew up.

Hours later, the French president said more people were involved in the attacks than previously thought and predicted more arrests would follow.

Salah Abdeslam, 26, is a childhood friend of the suspected ringleader of the attacks. Investigators believe he drove a car carrying a group of gunmen who took part in the shootings.

After the bloodbath, he slipped through a dragnet to return to Brussels and eluded capture for four months, despite an international manhunt. He was believed to have slipped through police fingers at least once, possibly twice. At one point, Belgian authorities locked down their capital for several days but failed to find him.

His capture brought instant relief to police and ordinary people in France and Belgium who had been looking over their shoulder for Abdeslam since Nov. 13, when Islamic extremist attackers fanned out across the French capital and killed 130 people at a rock concert, the national stadium and cafes. It was France’s deadliest attack in decades.

Abdeslam and four other suspects were detained in the raid, including three members of a family that sheltered him. Abdeslam was shot in the leg, officials said.

During Friday’s police operation, a phalanx of officers in camouflage, masks and riot helmets marched through the neighborhood with guns and automatic weapons drawn, escorting people out of buildings.

A witness described hearing gunshots and officers repeatedly yelling over a loudspeaker to suspects holed up inside the apartment building.

Authorities first sealed off the neighborhood. Then police began shouting to a particular apartment, demanding that the occupants come out with their hands up, said Fatiha Hrika, a 39-year-old child-care worker who lives a few doors down from where the raid happened.

After shots were fired, she said, “they piled in. We heard noises all around. And that’s when they pulled out the Salah (guy.) They put him to the ground.”

She described seeing the suspect put into an ambulance followed by a SWAT team.

France’s BFM television broadcast images of police tugging a man with a white hooded sweatshirt toward a police car, as he dragged his left leg as if it were injured.

Abdeslam was not armed but did not immediately obey orders when confronted by police, prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said.

It was possible he had spent days, weeks or months in the apartment, according to Van der Sypt, who said the investigation would continue day and night.