Belgium to extradite Paris terror suspect Abdeslam to France, as his lawyer says he’s ready to help investigators
Belgian authorities have approved the extradition of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam to France, with his lawyer claiming that Abdeslam was committed to co-operating with French investigators.
Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect in the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, was arrested in Brussels on March 18 after four months on the run as Europe’s most wanted man.
Four days after he was arrested, the Belgian capital was struck by co-ordinated Islamic State group bombings at the airport and a metro station carried out by suicide attackers with links to Abdeslam and the Paris attacks cell.
Abdeslam’s lawyer said that his 26-year-old client had agreed to be transferred to France under a European arrest warrant, clearing the way for a fast-track extradition.
“What Salah Abdeslam wants to make known is that he wants to co-operate with the French authorities. These are the words he wants to make known,” lawyer Cedric Moisse told reporters in Brussels.
Abdeslam’s arrest was considered a rare success in Belgium’s anti-terror fight, although he was found within a short distance of his family home in the Molenbeek district of the capital. He has refused to talk since the Brussels bombings.
The transfer to France should happen “within 10 days”, said French justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas.
Belgian investigators will still be allowed to question Abdeslam in France.
He is believed to have acted as a logistics co-ordinator for the Paris attacks and has told investigators he was meant to carry out a suicide bombing at the Stade de France stadium but backed out.
Brussels airport, closed since its departure hall was wrecked in the attacks, has meanwhile received the go-ahead from fire services and the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority “for a partial restart of passenger flights”.
“The airport is thus technically ready for a restart,” airport officials said in a statement. “However, the authorities have yet to take a formal decision on the restart date. Until Friday evening, no passenger flights will take place at Brussels Airport.”
Also Thursday, Portugal stepped up security at its airports following a message purportedly from the Islamic State group threatening attacks on Lisbon.
“Necessary security measures have been taken, including at airports,” said Helena Fazenda, head of the country’s internal security force, after the non-authenticated message was circulated on social media.
Close links have emerged between the Paris and Brussels attackers, exposing a tangled web of cross-border extremist cells and triggering a series of raids and arrests in several European countries.
Belgian-born French citizen Abdeslam has connections to at least two of the Brussels bombers. Khalid El Bakraoui, who blew himself up at the metro, rented a flat in Brussels where Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found.
One of the two airport bombers, Najim Laachraoui, drove to Hungary with Abdeslam in September.
Belgium is still searching for a suspected third attacker, the so-called “man in the hat” seen in surveillance images alongside the two airport bombers.