French court charges Salah Abdeslam over Paris attacks

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
PARIS
Published 27.04.2016 11:46
Updated 27.04.2016 20:06
This is an image taken from video on Wednesday April 13, 2016 of of Salah Abdeslam, left, the fugitive from the Nov. 13 Paris attacks whose capture appears to have precipitated the March 22 bombing in Brussels (AP Photo)
This is an image taken from video on Wednesday April 13, 2016 of of Salah Abdeslam, left, the fugitive from the Nov. 13 Paris attacks whose capture appears to have precipitated the March 22 bombing in Brussels (AP Photo)

The lawyer for Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam says preliminary charges of terrorist murders and possession and use of bombs and weapons have been filed against the 26-year-old.

Frank Berton says Abdeslam will be sent to a jail outside Paris later Wednesday.

Berton says Abdeslam told an investigating judge that he would explain his role in the deadly Nov. 13 attacks in the French capital at a later date.

The French prosecutor's office said that Abdeslam was being transferred from Belgium to the French capital, arriving at 9:05 a.m. (0705 GMT).

Abdeslam, suspected of playing a major part in the Paris attacks which killed 130 people, will appear before French magistrates on Wednesday with a view to being placed under formal investigation, the French public prosecutor said.

The prosecutor will request that he be held in custody, according to a statement.

A statement on Wednesday from the Belgium Federal Prosecutor's Office said Abdeslam was delivered to French authorities Wednesday morning under a March 19 European arrest warrant.

Salah Abdeslam showed little sign of religious fervour before the bloodshed and was known to enjoy a beer and a joint.

The 26-year-old French national of Moroccan origin, whose older brother Brahim blew himself up during the November 13 attacks on the French capital, was arrested in Brussels in March after four months on the run as Europe's most wanted man.

The two brothers were far from being religious and known to enjoy a drink and some pot in Les Beguines, the bar they ran in Molenbeek, an immigrant neighbourhood of Brussels.

"I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he replied that he had researched it on the Internet," Abdeslam's Belgian lawyer Sven Mary told the French daily Liberation.

In a lengthy interview published on Wednesday, Mary described his client as a "little moron from Molenbeek, more a follower than a leader.

"He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray. He is the perfect example of the GTA (Grand Theft Auto video game) generation who thinks he lives in a video game."

The Molenbeek bar was shut down two weeks before the Paris attacks after police said it was used "for the consumption of banned hallucinogenic substances".

A Molenbeek resident, who identified himself only as Youssef, told AFP last year the brothers were "friends of ours, big smokers, big drinkers, but not terrorists."

Salah Abdeslam certainly knew radicals though, having come into contact with another Molenbeek resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to have been the mastermind of the Paris attacks.

What is more, Abdeslam's arrest on March 18 came just days before a series of coordinated attacks on the Belgian capital killed 32 people, with the police uncovering clear links between him and the three Brussels suicide bombers.

Abdeslam had previously worked as a technician for the Brussels tram network but was fired for skipping work in 2011. Around the same time he was arrested for robbery along with Abaaoud.

He also developed a taste for casinos, gambling in the Dutch city of Breda in June 2014 and in Brussels last year.

But in 2015, he criss-crossed Europe, visiting Greece in August, then Austria and Hungary at a time when tens of thousands of migrants from Syria and Iraq were transiting Europe.

Prosecutors believe Abdeslam was in charge of logistics for the Paris attacks, which were planned in Brussels.

He rented the cars that the Daesh team used to travel to Paris, and booked the rooms where they stayed before launching the worst-ever terror attacks on French soil.

His brother Brahim detonated his suicide vest in a bar in Paris on November 13, as at least eight other Daesh attackers were shooting and blowing up 130 people who had been enjoying a Friday night out in the French capital.

It is possible Salah Abdeslam drove three suicide bombers to the Stade de France stadium and he appears to have also been in central Paris at the time of the slaughter.

But after his arrest in Brussels, he said he had changed his mind about blowing himself up.

An explosives vest was found abandoned in a dustbin in a Paris suburb and although none of Abdeslam's DNA was found on it, mobile phone data put him in the area at the time.

Before police were alerted to his possible involvement, he had been stopped three times by officers in France as he fled back to Belgium by car the day after the attacks.

Two men with him in the vehicle, Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri, are said to have been smoking marijuana but a policeman waved them on and Abdeslam was able to remain on the run for 126 days.

His Belgian lawyer, who has defended terrorist recruiters, pedophiles and mafia figures, admitted having reservations over representing Abdeslam who was arrested just four days before the bloodshed in Belgium.

"There have been moments when I thought of giving up. If I had known about the Brussels attacks, maybe I would never have taken this case," Mary said, suggesting he might not stay on the case after Abdeslam's transfer to France.

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