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Suspected Paris Attacker Salah Abdeslam Has Been Charged With 'Terrorist Murder'

Abdeslam, who was captured in Brussels on Friday after four months on the lam, reportedly plans to fight extradition to France.

by VICE News
Mar 19 2016, 5:55pm

Photo via EPA

Salah Abdeslam, an alleged participant in the November 13 attacks in Paris, was released from a hospital in Belgium on Saturday and formally charged with "participation in terrorist murder." Abdeslam, who was captured in Brussels on Friday after four months on the lam, now faces extradition to France.

Abdeslam was wounded in the leg during a shootout with police in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, a hotbed of Islamic extremism where authorities suspect the Paris attacks were planned. French President Francois Hollande says Paris prosecutors will seek extradition so that Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen, can stand trial in France for helping orchestrate the attacks on the French capital, which left 130 people dead.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Friday that he would like to arrange the extradition "as soon as possible." Abdeslam plans to fight any extradition order, his lawyer Sven Mary told reporters on Saturday. Mary added that the 26-year-old terror suspect was cooperating with authorities, though it's unclear what information he has provided beyond confirming his identity.

Related: Salah Abdeslam, Mastermind of Paris Attacks, Arrested in Molenbeek, Belgium

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Abdeslam had initially planned to blow himself up on November 13 during the attack on the Stade de France, but changed his mind at the last minute.

"Salah Abdeslam today during questioning by investigators affirmed that, and I quote, 'he wanted to blow himself up at the State de France and that he had backed down,'" Molins told reporters. The prosecutor added that investigators were treating these initial statements with caution.

According to the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, a total of five people — including Abdeslam — were arrested during the raids on Friday. One of the men, Amine Choukri, was also injured during the operation. Police also detained three members of the family that allegedly sheltered Abdeslam in Molenbeek. Abdeslam was officially charged with "with participation in terrorist murder" and participating in the activities of a terrorist organization.

Footage from the raid on Friday showed heavily-armed, balaclava-clad police dragging a man whose face was covered with a white hood into an unmarked vehicle.

Earlier this week, a joint counter-terrorism team of French and Belgian officers raided an apartment in the Forest district of Brussels. Four officers were wounded during that raid and one gunman was killed. Two others who were in the apartment are believed to still be at large. Authorities found Abdeslam's fingerprints inside that apartment.

On Saturday, Belgian authorities explained that shortly after the raid earlier in the week, Abdeslam called a friend seeking a place stay. The friend tipped off the police, who traced Abdeslam's mobile phone to the apartment in Molenbeek where he arrested on Friday.

The suspect who died in the raid on Tuesday was identified as Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian. Next to his body, investigators discovered a Kalashnikov rifle and a book on Salafism, the radical Sunni ideology associated with the Islamic State (IS). Authorities also found a black IS flag and ammunition.

Related: The 'Heart of Jihadism' in Europe Is More Complicated Than You Think

Abdeslam is suspected of driving attackers to the Bataclan concert hall, where the Eagles of Death Metal were playing to a large crowd. His older brother was one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up during the attacks, which killed 80 people.

Authorities suspect Abdeslam fled Paris after the attacks, possibly leaving his own suicide belt in a garbage can south of the city. He was briefly stopped and questioned by authorities at the France-Belgium border, but his suspected role in the attacks was not yet widely known and he was allowed to pass through.

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