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Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam wounded, caught alive in Brussels: Report

One of the main suspects in the Paris attacks from last November, Salah Abdeslam has been wounded and caught by police in an operation on Friday afternoon in the Brussels quarter of Molenbeeck, Belgian media reported.

world Updated: Mar 19, 2016 01:22 IST
Paris Attacks,Paris Attack suspected caught,Salah Abdeslam caught
Belgian policemen stand guard the road during a police action in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016.(AFP Photo)

The most-wanted fugitive from November’s Paris attacks was wounded and caught in a shootout in Brussels on Friday, Belgian newspaper Derniere Heure and other media said.

Other media reported two people had been arrested, though France’s President Francois Hollande said there was no confirmation of the detention of Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old French suspect from Brussels.

Television footage showed masked, black-clad security forces guarding a street in the capital and reporters at the scene described white smoke rising from a rooftop.

A police spokeswoman said an operation was ongoing and could not give further details.

Read: Manhunt in Brussels after raid linked to Paris attacks

Belgian police had found finger prints belonging to Abdeslam at the scene of an earlier shoot-out, prosecutors said.

The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office also said an Algerian killed during that earlier operation at an apartment in Brussels on Tuesday was probably one of the people French and Belgian investigators were seeking in relation to the Islamic State attacks in Paris on November 13.

A Handout picture shows Belgian-born Abdeslam Salah seen on a call for witnesses notice released by the French Police Nationale information services on their twitter account November 15, 2015. (REUTERS)

It later said in a separate statement that Mohamed Belkaid was probably the man who went under the name of Samir Bouzid and was killed on Tuesday.

Salah Abdeslam, 26, a Belgian-born French national, is believed to have played a key logistical role in the attacks, and fled across the border to Belgium hours after the killings. He and his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in Paris, had run a bar together in Molenbeek that was shut down by the authorities just weeks before the massacre. Friends and locals had said they were fond of drink and a joint and that there was no sign they were radical Islamists with murderous intent.

Public broadcaster RTBF said it had information that Abdeslam was “more than likely” one of two men who police have said evaded capture at the scene before a sniper shot dead 35-year-old Belkaid as he aimed a Kalashnikov.

Other Belgian media were more cautious, however, saying only there was evidence Abdeslam had been there.

A man named Samir Bouzid has been sought since December when police issued CCTV pictures of him wiring cash from Brussels two days after the Paris attacks to a woman who was then killed in a shootout with police in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

Read: 129 killed in Paris attacks, Hollande vows ‘merciless’ response

She was a cousin of Abdelhamid Abbaoud, a Belgian who had fought in Syria and is suspected of being a prime organiser of the attacks in which 130 people were killed. Both died in the apartment in St. Denis on Nov. 18.

France’s BFM television said the fingerprints were found on a glass in the apartment, where four police officers, including a Frenchwoman, were wounded when a hail of automatic gunfire hit them through the front door as they arrived for what officials said they had expected to be a relatively routine search.

Belgian officials said earlier in the week that police had not expected to find armed suspects at the apartment and that the presence of French officers was not an indication the raid was of special importance to the investigation.

Abdeslam’s elder brother was among the suicide bombers who killed themselves in Paris during a shooting rampage in which 130 people died. The younger Abdeslam was driven back to Brussels from Paris hours later.

Read: Paris attacks: Hunt for attacker who got away, IS HQ bombed in Syria

Belgian authorities are holding 10 people suspected of involvement with him, but there has been no report of the fugitive himself being sighted. There has long been speculation in Belgium that he could have fled to Syria.

Investigators believe much of the planning and preparation for the November bombing and shooting rampage in Paris was conducted in Brussels by young French and Belgian nationals, some of whom fought in Syria for Islamic State.

The attack strained relations between Brussels and Paris, with French officials suggesting Belgium was lax in monitoring the activities of hundreds of militants returned from Syria.

Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was entirely locked down for days shortly after the Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.

First Published: Mar 18, 2016 22:31 IST