Abdeslam cooperates in Paris attacks inquiry, opposes extradition

Salah Abdeslam, the Frenchman arrested for his alleged role in last year's terrorist attacks in Paris, is cooperating with authorities in Belgium but will oppose extradition to France, the Belga news agency reported Saturday.

The 26-year-old admits to having been in Paris on November 13, 2015, the night of the coordinated bombings and gun attacks on restaurants, bars, the Stade de France stadium and the Bataclan concert hall that left 130 people dead, the report added, citing his lawyer Sven Mary.

Abdeslam, who became one of Europe's most wanted criminals after fleeing the French capital in the wake of the attacks, was arrested in Belgium on Friday.

He was taken into custody with four other people, including three members of the family who was hosting him in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighbourhood where Abdeslam grew up and lived before the November attacks.

He was hiding in an apartment owned by a friend's mother, broadcaster RTBF reported.

The 26-year-old's leg was slightly injured in the raid, after which he was taken to a hospital in Brussels. He was discharged from hospital the following day.

"Salah Abdeslam is directly linked to the preparation, the organization and, alas, the perpetration of the [Paris] attacks," French President Francois Hollande said in Brussels on Friday, adding that he expects French authorities to ask Belgium for his extradition.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel signaled the government's willingness to extradite Abdeslam but said legal hurdles may prevent French authorities from having him in custody for several weeks.

Following the arrest, the terrorist threat level in Brussels remained unchanged at its second-highest level.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve hailed the arrest as a victory in the European fight against terrorism.

Abdeslam is believed to have joined his brother Brahim in targeting restaurants and bars during the Paris attacks, but his exact role in the violence has never been publicly disclosed. It is believed that at the very least he offered logistical support to the attackers.

A manhunt for Abdeslam had been under way since mid-November, after he was brought back from Paris to Belgium by two acquaintances following the attacks.

There had been media reports that he may have escaped to Syria - a stronghold of the Islamic State extremist group, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

Last update: Sat, 19/03/2016 - 17:41
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