The Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office has approved the extradition of terror suspect Salah Abdeslam to France. "The transfer is authorized," the office said in a statement released Thursday. Prosecutors added that Belgian and French authorities would "jointly discuss the terms of this handover." The extradition is expected to happen within the next ten days.
Abdeslam — who was arrested on March 18 during a police raid on an apartment in the Molenbeek district of Brussels — was subject to a European arrest warrant issued by France.
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Abdeslam's attorney Cédric Moisse said that his client was willing to "collaborate with French authorities."
The decision marks a major u-turn for the defense, who initially announced they would seek to oppose any extradition to France.
Abdeslam's change of heart seems to be a direct consequence of the recent terror attacks in Brussels, and investigators will now be trying to determine whether the Paris suspect knew anything about a plot to launch attacks on Belgian soil.
In the days following the attacks, Belgian justice minister Koen Geens said that Abdeslam was no longer cooperating with investigators. On March 24, Abdeslam's attorney Sven Mary announced that his client "wanted to leave for France as soon as possible."
In a statement published Thursday, French justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said that, "Exceptional circumstances withstanding, the handover will happen within [the next] ten days."
For now, Abdeslam is being held in isolation in the high-security section of the prison in Bruges, Belgium. He could be transported to neighboring France in a vehicle convoy or by train. Once in France, he will most likely be held at one of the three high-security prisons near Paris — Fresnes, Fleury-Mérogis or Augny.
Once the extradition has taken place, French authorities will be able to question Abdeslam on what role he played in the November 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in and around the French capital.
So far, the suspect has downplayed his involvement in the terror attacks, telling investigators he had intended to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium but backtracked.
His trial is not expected to start for several years.
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