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Suspected Terror Mastermind Salah Abdeslam Is Dumb as an 'Empty Ashtray,' His Lawyer Says

The man suspected of masterminding the Paris attacks is not the brightest bulb — at least according to the man whose job it is to get him out of the accusation of organizing the slaughter of 130 people.
Screenshot of Salah Abdeslam taken from a CCTV camera following the November 13 attacks via Wikimedia Commons

Belgian prosecutors confirmed Wednesday that Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam had been extradited to France overnight on Tuesday. But the man who was the most wanted in Europe until his capture last month may not the criminal mastermind that prosecutors say. In fact, the prime suspect in the November 13 terror attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris is kind of an idiot and he's in way over his head — according to his Belgian lawyer, at least.


Abdeslam, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, was arrested on March 18 in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, after a four-month international manhunt.

"The [Belgian] federal prosecutor's office will not release any further information concerning the time or the circumstances of this handover" to France, a spokesperson said.

According to French television channel TF1, Abdeslam was transported to France by helicopter, escorted by officers from the elite National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN). He was taken from the Beveren prison, in northern Belgium, to the air base in Vélizy-Villacoublay, southwest of the French capital.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, the Paris prosecutor's office said that the suspect "entered the national territory at 9:05am."

Abdeslam will appear before a French judge later on Wednesday, before being transferred to a prison in the Paris area.

Abdeslam — who has been charged with "terrorist murders and taking part in the activities of a terror group" for his role in the Paris attacks — was also charged in Belgium over a shootout on March 15, in which several police officers were injured in the Belgian town of Forest.

Earlier on Wednesday, regional French daily La Voix du Nord revealed that Frank Berton, an attorney based in the northern French city of Lille, would represent Abdeslam in France.

Berton has been associated with several high-profile cases in France, including the Outreau trial — a notorious child sex abuse trial and "legal fiasco" that took place in 2004 and 2005.


Berton, who met with Abdeslam last week in Belgium, said that his client was prepared to talk, and to "explain himself" in front of a French judge. According to Berton, Abdeslam's Belgian attorney Sven Mary will also be on the suspect's French defense team.

But judging by a profile of Mary published in French daily Libération today, it is not clear whether that will be the case.

"I don't know whether I'll keep working on the case when Abdeslam is handed to France," Mary said. "It's not easy to take on this defense that brings me nothing but hassle: I've been attacked several times, both verbally and physically," he added.

Mary doesn't seem to think Abdeslam has the chops to be a terrorist mastermind, either. "He's a little asshole from Molenbeek, who started off as a petty criminal — more of a follower than a leader," said Mary. "He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray, he's utterly vacuous. He's the perfect example of generation GTA [Grand Theft Auto], who think they live inside a video game. He and his friends have succeeded in making an entire religion look bad."

In an interview with Belgian daily La Libre published Wednesday, Mary contextualized his comments to Libération, saying Abdeslam had approved the use of the "shocking phrase" to "get their common message across."

The Belgian attorney did not, however, comment on his earlier implication that terror suspects like Abdeslam should be note be tried by domestic courts. "They shouldn't be tried by the Paris Cour d'Assises [criminal court] but by an international criminal court. These people have committed acts of war," he told Libération.

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This article originally appeared in VICE News' French edition