Under fire for not doing enough to prevent terrorism, Belgian police launched a raid related to a foiled French plot. Meanwhile, the lawyer for key Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam said he wants to return to France to cooperate with authorities
Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam wants to cooperate with French authorities once he is extradited from Belgium, his lawyer said yesterday, as Belgian police carried out a raid linked to a foiled French terror plot. Soldiers and police could be seen taking part in an operation near a busy motorway in Courtrai in northwestern Belgium, the latest in a series of raids since the Paris and Brussels terror attacks exposed a tangled web of cross-border extremist cells.
The sole surviving suspect of the November 13 Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in Brussels on March 18 after four months on the run. The arrest was considered a rare success in Belgium's counterterror fight, although he was found just meters from his family home, and has refused to talk since the Brussels attacks despite having links to the attackers. "I can confirm that Salah Abdeslam wants to be handed over to the French authorities," lawyer Cedric Moisse told reporters at an extradition hearing in Brussels. "I can also confirm that he wants to cooperate with the French authorities."
A prosecutor was set to travel to the prison in the city of Bruges where Abdeslam is being held to discuss his extradition under a European arrest warrant.
Belgian federal prosecutors "do not object" to handing the suspect over to France, said spokesman Eric Van der Sypt. A judge was set to rule on the extradition by Friday at the latest. Belgium has increasingly found itself at the center of Europe's battle against terrorism, and authorities have faced strong criticism for not doing enough to keep tabs on suspected extremists.
Belgium's latest raid was linked to a new plot in France, in which the main suspect, Reda Kriket, was charged in France on Wednesday with membership of a terrorist organization after police found an arsenal of weapons and explosives at his home.
"A raid is under way in connection with the (Reda) Kriket case," Van der Sypt told AFP. He said it is taking place at Marke, in the town of Courtrai. In what could signal improved security cooperation, several European countries have made arrests in recent days over the thwarted plot linked to 34-year-old Kriket. Kriket was arrested near Paris last week, and a police raid on his apartment netted a cache of assault rifles, handguns and TATP, the highly volatile homemade explosive favored by DAESH extremists.
Another French suspect, 32-year-old Anis Bahri, was arrested in Rotterdam in the Netherlands at the weekend in connection with the plot.
Two other suspects – Abderrahmane A., 38, and Rabah M., 34 – have been charged in Belgium, accused of involvement in the same plot. Abdeslam, 26, has asserted his right to remain silent since the day after his arrest, having been questioned for three hours only about the Paris attacks and not about possible further activity.
The Belgian-born French citizen, who was caught unarmed after being shot in the leg in a dramatic police raid in Brussels, told interrogators he had intended to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium in Paris, but had backed out at the last minute. He also refused to speak to investigators after Brussels was hit on March 22 by suicide attacks at the airport and a metro station in which 32 people died, attacks which were claimed by DAESH.
Abdeslam has been linked to at least two of the Brussels bombers. Khalid el-Bakraoui, who blew himself up at the metro, rented a flat in Brussels where Abdeslam's fingerprints were found following a raid on March 15.
The second airport bomber, Najim Laachraoui, once drove to Hungary with Abdeslam. According to Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Abdeslam had also been planning to target Brussels. Another of his lawyers, Sven Mary, said last week that Abdeslam did not have prior knowledge of the March 22 attacks in the Belgian capital.
Belgian authorities face serious questions about possible lapses in security in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels, as reports surfaced indicating that Turkey had warned Belgium about one of the attackers, and two additional suspects are on the U.S. terror watch list. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday lashed out at European leaders who had missed opportunities to prevent terror attacks, even though Turkey had previously notified the Belgian authorities and deported one of the Brussels terrorists.