THE capture of Salah Abdeslam after a shootout in Brussels is the culmination of a four-month manhunt for one of Europe’s most-wanted fugitives.
The 26-year-old Brussels native is believed to have played a key logistical role in the 13 November Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.
His brother Brahmin was a suicide bomber during the attacks, which were claimed by extremists from the so-called Islamic State.
Abdeslam called two friends – Mohammed Amri and Hamza Attou – on the morning after the attacks to ask if they could collect him from the French capital and bring him back to Brussels.
Police later stopped the three men near the French-Belgian border, but they were released as Abdeslam had yet to be connected to the Paris attacks.
He arrived in Brussels later that day and was met by an unknown person. Police then admitted that they lost him, and an international manhunt began.
Amri and Attou, who were later arrested, reportedly told police Abdeslam threatened to blow up the car the men used to drive him back to Brussels.
In the days after the Paris attacks, a suicide belt was found in a dustbin in the Paris suburb of Montrouge, near where he was thought to have been on the night of the attacks.
Police say phone location data placed him in Montrouge that evening, and there was speculation he may have decided not to go ahead with the attack at the last moment.
Another theory put forward by police is that Abdeslam may have had a technical problem with his belt.
There has long been speculation in Belgium that Abdeslam could have fled to Syria following his return to Brussels.
In January, Europol added Abdeslam to its list of most-wanted fugitives, describing him as a “very dangerous, armed individual”.
Abdeslam’s ability to evade capture led to tensions between French and Belgian authorities, with France criticising Brussels over its handling of the manhunt.
On Tuesday police raided an apartment in southern Brussels, killing 35-year-old Algerian national Mohamed Belkaid.
Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found inside the flat.
Public broadcaster RTBF reported that it was “more than likely” that one of the two men who evaded capture at the apartment was Abdeslam.
Further investigations led police to an address in Molenbeek where a shootout occurred, with at least 10 shots being heard by witnesses.
Grenades were also used during the dramatic police raid.
After police closed off nearby streets, the Belgian asylum minister Theo Francken confirmed “we got him”, bringing to an end the hunt for one of Europe’s most-wanted fugitive. news.sky.com
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