Lucky Breaks Led Police to 'Europe's Most Wanted Man'

Salah Abdeslam was hiding in plain sight, chance raid gave him away
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2016 1:01 PM CDT
Lucky Breaks Led Police to 'Europe's Most Wanted Man'
Salah Abdeslam is arrested and bundled into a police vehicle during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016.   (VTM via AP)

" It was an absolutely cold track," a French intel veteran of the hunt for Salah Abdeslam as of Monday night. Four months into the hunt for the key terrorist in the Paris attacks, officials didn't know if he was still in Europe or if he'd slipped through to Syria. But, as Time reports, "on Tuesday, that changed entirely": A SWAT team investigating another matter caught gunfire from an apartment in a Brussels suburb; grainy cell phone video indicated Abdeslam might've been among those who escaped, and a fingerprint inside confirmed his presence—hidden right in plain sight. Another coincidence: Abdeslam's slain brother, Ibrahim, a suicide bomber at the Paris cafe, was finally being buried Thursday. Cops tapped the phones of 20 of the brothers' friends who collected Ibrahim Abdeslam's body, which apparently gave them intel to set up Friday's successful raid in Mollenbeek.

" This is a really, really good thing, that he was captured alive," says Mollenbeek's deputy mayor. Meanwhile, Abdeslam is talking, reports the BBC. "Salah Abdeslam today during questioning by [Belgian] investigators affirmed that, and I quote, 'he wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and that he had backed down,' " Paris' prosecutor said Saturday. Abdeslam's lawyer says he's planning to file a legal complaint against the prosecutor for that particular disclosure, reports Sky News. Abdeslam is also fighting extradition to France, adds the New York Times. But investigators believe he wasn't idle while on the run: Abdeslam said "he was ready to restart something from Brussels, and it's maybe the reality," says Belgium's foreign minister. "We found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons in the first investigations, and we have seen a new network of people around him in Brussels." (Read more Salah Abdeslam stories.)

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