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Paris Attacks Suspect Salah Abdeslam Is Captured During Raid In Brussels

Belgian policemen walk in a street during a police action in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels on Friday.
AFP/Getty Images
Belgian policemen walk in a street during a police action in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels on Friday.

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, one of Europe's most wanted men, has been taken alive during a police raid in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek.

26-year old Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.
/ AP
26-year old Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Abdeslam, 26, had evaded capture for more than four months after the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people on Nov. 13.

The news was confirmed by Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel and France's President Francois Hollande during a joint press conference Friday evening.

Abdeslam's capture is the result of an extensive manhunt that included more than 100 police operations, some under "very delicate circumstances," Michel said.

According to an interpreter on the BBC, Michel said, "This evening is, of course, a huge success in this battle against terrorism."

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reported that U.S. officials say Abdeslam "is injured in the leg ... but is coherent and being treated."

Hollande told reporters that French judicial authorities plan to ask Belgium to extradite Abdeslam.

"I have total confidence in the achievement of these extradition procedures. Abdeslam should be interrogated in France and be judged in France," he said.

Belgium's Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said at a news conference that five people in total were arrested during the day's operations in Molenbeek. Earlier, Michel and Hollande had talked about a total of three arrests.

Three of those taken into custody are "members of the family that hid Salah Abdeslam," Van Der Sypt said. They will all be interrogated in Belgium, he said.

Video of the operation broadcast on BBC showed heavily armed police surrounding the entrance to an apartment building and pointing their guns toward a top floor. The news service said several explosions were heard at the scene.

News of the action comes hours after the Belgian federal prosecutor announced new evidence in the search for Abdeslam. Teri Schultz, reporting from Brussels, told our Newscast unit that Abdeslam's fingerprints were found in a separate raid on Tuesday.

Here's more from Teri:

"The Belgian federal prosecutor says Salah Abdeslam's prints were found in a home where police were surprised by heavy gunfire Tuesday, when they arrived to conduct what was expected to be a routine search of an empty apartment as part of the ongoing probe into the Paris attacks. One gunman died and two others exchanged fire with police for several hours before they got away.

"Authorities are not saying if Abdeslam was one of those shooters, nor when the fingerprints may have been left in the home. Abdeslam has been the subject of an international manhunt since fleeing back to Brussels after the attacks in Paris. ... His brother and several other perpetrators were from Belgium."

The Guardian reported that "police believe [Abdeslam] played a key role in the logistics of the Paris attacks and escorted the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up at the Stade de France as part of the coordinated assault."

And as The Two-Way has reported, "French police stopped [Abdeslam] in the hours after the Paris attacks as he made his way to Belgium, but police ultimately allowed him to continue on his journey."

Abdeslam's brother also participated in the deadly attacks — he blew himself up at the Bataclan nightclub, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reported in December. Here's more:

"He's a Frenchman who was living in Belgium, in this neighborhood of Molenbeek that has spawned the careers of many radicals. And he is thought to have thrown his suicide belt, his explosive belt, in a trashcan in Paris, in the southern part of Paris, because that's where he was last seen on his cellphone."

Abdeslam narrowly avoided arrest in December in Belgium because of a law prohibiting police raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., Eleanor reported.

President Obama spoke by phone with Michel and Hollande after the arrests, the White House said, and "commended the work of Belgian security services and noted that this significant arrest was the result of hard work and close cooperation between Belgian and French law enforcement authorities."

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement: "The reported capture of Salah Abdeslam has been one of the top priorities for European officials, and his apprehension will be critical to bringing to justice a heinous criminal and to filling in many of the remaining gaps in the U.S. intelligence community's understanding of the Paris attacks."

At the press conference, Hollande said that while important, the arrests are not "final conclusion of this story." He said: "There have been arrests already, and there will have to be more. Because we know that the network was quite widespread in Belgium, in France, in other countries of Europe as well."

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We'll move quickly to correct the record and we'll only point to the best information we have at the time. Refresh this page for the latest.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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