Belgian prosecutors charge Abdeslam with role in "terrorist murder"

Salah Abdeslam, the Frenchman arrested for his alleged role in last year's terrorist attacks in Paris, has been charged with "participating in terrorist murder," Belgian prosecutors said Saturday.

An investigating judge issued an arrest warrant for Abdeslam, who was apprehended in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels on Friday. He is also charged him with taking part in the activities of a terrorist organization, according to a statement from the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office.

Abdeslam, who became one of Europe's most wanted criminals after fleeing the French capital in the wake of the attacks, has cooperated with authorities in Belgium but will oppose extradition to France, according to a Belga news agency report.

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.

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

Belgian prosecutors said one man, who is known by two aliases, faces the same charges as Abedslam and has also been detained.

Two of the suspects were released, despite charges having been filed against one of them for hiding Abdeslam and his alleged accomplice. A third man also stands accused of hiding the men and is thought to have links to a terrorist organization.

Abdeslam'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 - 19:57
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