Captured fugitive Salah Abdeslam initially planned to blow himself up outside the Stade de France during the Paris attacks but changed his mind, a prosecutor said Saturday, after Europe's most wanted man woke up behind bars on Sunday after spending his first night in jail on charges of "terrorist murder" for his role in orchestrating the worst-ever terror assault on French soil.
The 26-year-old spent four months as Europe's most wanted man for his role in organizing the Nov. 13 gun and suicide attacks on the French capital, which killed 130 people. A day after he was caught, Abdeslam was charged with terrorist murder and for participating in a terror group before being taken to a maximum security prison in the northwestern city of Bruges. He is being held in the prison's "individual and special safety" wing, which was built in 2008 for people who pose an escape risk or for those with particular behavioral problems, a spokeswoman said. Although he was cooperating with the authorities, he would fight against plans to transfer him to France, his lawyer Sven Mary said.
Police have also detained a suspected accomplice of his, Mounir Ahmed Alaaj, also known as Amine Choukri, on the same terrorism charges. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Abdeslam had played a "central role" in planning the November attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall, which were claimed by DAESH. His brother Brahim blew himself up in a restaurant in the east of the French capital, and Molins said Abdeslam had planned to do the same at the Stade de France before changing his mind.
"These first statements, which should be taken cautiously, leave a whole series of issues that Salah Abdeslam must explain," Molins told a Paris news conference. Investigators believe Abdeslam rented rooms in the Paris area to be used by the attackers and a car, which he used to drive them to the Stade de France before heading to the 18tharrondissement in the north of the capital.
Days after the attacks, an explosives-filled suicide vest was found in Paris in an area where cell phone signals indicated Abdeslam had been. French President Francois Hollande said shortly after his arrest Friday that he wanted to see Abdeslam transferred to France as quickly as possible to face prosecution. French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Saturday that Belgium will hand over Abdeslam to France in no more than three months.
Abdeslam's arrest in the gritty Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels was hailed by European and United States leaders, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it dealt a "major blow" to DAESH extremists operating in Europe. But the minister warned Saturday that the threat level remained "extremely high" and said France was deploying extra police officers to its borders to step up controls following discussions with Interpol. The BBC reported that Interpol has urged increased border security as there is a possibility for suspects may flee after Abdeslam's arrest on Friday.
Former small-time criminal Abdeslam is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-man extremist team that launched the Paris attacks. Two more suspects are wanted in connection with the killings – Mohamed Abrini, who became friends with Abdeslam when they were teenagers, and another fugitive known only by a name used on false papers, Soufiane Kayal.
On Nov. 13, 2015, France was hit by its worst terror attack since World War II and 130 people died while hundreds were wounded. After the attack, France imposed strict security measures. A national state of emergency was announced, thousands of troops were deployed, tourist sites were closed down and dozens of suspects were detained.