Paris attacks suspect will fight extradition efforts: lawyer
The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 19, 2016 11:05AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 19, 2016 12:33PM EDT
BRUSSELS— Salah Abdeslam, the top suspect in last year's deadly Paris attacks, was discharged Saturday from a Brussels hospital, and quickly made it clear he will fight efforts to ship him to France for trial.
"I can tell you that he is collaborating with Belgian justice and that we will refuse the extradition to France," Sven Mary, Abdeslam's lawyer, said.
Mary spoke to journalists after he and Abdeslam met with a Belgian investigating magistrate who will decide whether to issue a formal arrest warrant against the Brussels native accused of playing a key role in the Nov. 13 attacks on a rock concert, cafes and a stadium that killed 130 people.
Abdeslam, 26, was shot in the leg and a suspected accomplice also injured when they were captured by Belgian police on Friday. Yvan Mayeur, the Brussels mayor, announced on Twitter that "the two presumed terrorists" had been discharged from CHU St. Pierre hospital Saturday morning.
Abdeslam, a French national, is subject to a European arrest warrant issued by France. His seizure in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek after four months on the run brought relief to people who have seen his "wanted" poster all over two countries for months.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, said Saturday he hopes Abdeslam can be brought to France to face justice. He spoke after French President Francois Hollande held an emergency security meeting in Paris.
Hollande has warned that more arrests will come as authorities try to dismantle a network involved in the attacks that is much larger than originally suspected. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Paris carnage.
Cazeneuve called Abdeslam's arrest a "major blow" to the Islamic State group in Europe, but warned the threat of new attacks remains "extremely high."
Belgium's prime minister also said "the fight is not over," and the Belgian government announced the nation's terrorism alert level would remain unchanged at 3 on a 4-point scale.
Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said the investigating magistrate has 24 hours following a detention to issue an arrest warrant, though that deadline can be prolonged for another day. Then Abdeslam will have to appear before a pretrial court, which will decide whether he stays in jail for up to another month.
"If he starts talking then I presume it will mean he stays longer in Belgium," Van der Sypt told The Associated Press. But whether the suspect fights extradition or not, "sooner or later he will be extradited to France," the prosecutor said.
Mary, Abdeslam's attorney, said, "firstly the legality of the arrest warrant, the European arrest warrant, has to be checked carefully. There is a case file open in Belgium and maybe there should be less genuflecting for the sake of compensating for the sense of guilt that we feel, the guilt we feel with respect to France. Maybe this should stop."
Asked by reporters about the state of his client, Mary said: "He was hurt by a bullet in the leg."
Asked what he and Abdeslam spoke about, the lawyer said, "I don't think it's important what he told me."
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference Saturday that his government has no "political objections" to handing Abdeslam over to the French, but wants to fully respect Belgian judicial procedure which "can take at least a couple of weeks."
French and Belgian anti-terrorism prosecutors were planning a teleconference call Saturday during which matters including Abdeslam's extradition were to be be discussed, Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office spokesman Thierry Werts said.
A 2002 agreement among European Union member states speeds up the extradition process, making it a purely judicial process and removing any political aspect. For especially grave crimes, such as terrorist acts, the procedure goes even faster.
Hollande, speaking next to Michel, the Belgian prime minister, said at a joint news conference in Brussels on Friday he was sure "the French judicial authorities will send an extradition request very soon" and that "the Belgian authorities will answer it as favorably as possible, as soon as possible."
The shared French language between France and Belgium will help make the process even smoother. Abdeslam could appeal the extradition, but under the European principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions, that would only give him a short respite.
Samia Maktouf, a French lawyer for several survivors and relatives of Paris attack victims, is urging immediate extradition. "Apart from his (medical) condition, I don't see what might delay his extradition," she told The Associated Press.
Survivors and victims' families "relief is mingled with bitterness" because some suspects are still on the run and belong to an organized and sprawling network that has yet to be stopped, Maktouf said. "Our young people found death for no reason. Today, their families have empty chairs next to them, they have a phone that doesn't ring any longer," she said.
Abdeslam is a childhood friend of the suspected ringleader of the attacks. Investigators believe Abdeslam drove a car carrying a group of gunmen who took part in the shootings, rented rooms and shopped for detonators. Most of the Paris attackers died on the night of the attacks, including Abdeslam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up.
After the bloodbath, Salah Abdeslam evaded a dragnet to return to Brussels. He was believed to have slipped through police fingers multiple times despite an international manhunt. At one point, Belgian authorities locked down their capital for several days but failed to find him.
Abdeslam and four other suspects were detained in Friday's raid, including three members of a family that sheltered him. Abdeslam was not armed but did not immediately obey orders when confronted by police, Van der Sypt said.
Belgian prosecutors said they were not sure of the identity of the presumed accomplice arrested with Abdeslam. They said he is believed to have used fake Syrian and Belgian documents bearing two different names.
It was possible Abdeslam had spent days, weeks or months in the Molenbeek apartment, according to Van der Sypt.
Two other people believed linked to the attacks were still being sought, including fellow Molenbeek resident Mohamed Abrini and a man known under the alias of Soufiane Kayal.
Abdeslam's role in the attacks has never been clearly spelled out. The car he drove was abandoned in northern Paris, and his mobile phone and an explosive vest he may have had were later found in the Paris suburb of Montrouge, raising the possibility that he aborted his mission.