Paris suspect Abdeslam charged over Brussels shootout

21st April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was charged Thursday with attempted murder over a deadly shootout with police in Brussels a week before the suicide bombings in the Belgian capital, his lawyer and prosecutors said.

An Algerian Islamist suspect was killed and four police officers were wounded in the March 15 shooutout, which led to Abdeslam's arrest three days later after a massive European manhunt.

"He has been charged with attempted murder either alone or jointly" over the gunbattle at an apartment in the southern Forest district of Brussels, lawyer Sven Mary told AFP.

Belgian prosecutors later confirmed the charges against Abdeslam, 26, who is currently awaiting extradition to France.

"Salah Abdeslam has been charged today with attempted murder in the case opened after the gunbattle in Forest during which several police officers were injured," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.

"The judge did not make an order for his arrest given that he is already in detention over the attacks in Paris."

Abdeslam, a French national of Moroccan origin who grew up in Belgium, is due to be transferred to France in coming days over the November 13 Paris attacks, in which he is believed to be the last surviving member of the terror squad that killed 130 people.

But Belgian police have also tried to question him over his links to the three suicide bombers who struck Brussels airport and metro on March 22, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds.

The Islamic State group has claimed both attacks.

- Extradition next week? -

The Forest shootout began after a joint raid by Belgian and French police on an apartment that had been rented under a false name by Khalid El Bakraoui, who one week later would carry out the suicide attack at Maalbeek metro station.

Mohamed Belkaid, an Algerian terror suspect who had been pictured in a car with Abdeslam on the Hungarian border in mid-2015, was shot dead by a police sniper after apparently opening fire on police.

Four police officers -- three Belgian and a Frenchwoman -- were wounded.

Based on evidence from the Forest raid including Abdeslam's fingerprints found at the scene, Belgian authorities were able to track down Abdeslam to a property about a block away from his family home in Molenbeek.

Asked if Abdeslam admitted being present at the Forest shootout, Mary said: "We won't discuss that, I won't comment."

Abdeslam will appear before a Belgian court again on April 28 and his extradition to France will come "perhaps two days after his court appearance," Mary added.

Separately a judge remanded in custody for one month Abid Aberkan, who was arrested on March 18 for sheltering Salah Abdeslam in Molenbeek and charged with "participating in a terrorist group" and hiding a fugitive.

Abdeslam and alleged Paris accomplice Mohamed Abrini, who has also charged over the Brussels attacks, were moved to different jails in Belgium last week.

Abrini, 31, has confessed to being "the man in the hat" caught on video with suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui -- Khalid's brother -- and Najim Laachraoui -- the alleged bombmaker for the Paris attacks -- at Brussels airport.

IS said last week that the Bakraoui brothers, formerly known as small-time local criminals, obtained the weapons and explosives for both the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Abrini was meanwhile also linked to the November Paris massacre after being caught on video at a motorway gas station with Abdeslam en route to the French capital.


© 2016 AFP

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