Belgian lawyer vows fight over Paris attacks suspect

20th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

The lawyer for Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam launched a furious legal fight Sunday to avoid his extradition to France, after Europe's most wanted fugitive spent his first night in a Belgian jail.

At the same time Belgium's foreign minister suggested that Abdeslam was also plotting "something" in Brussels, where he was caught Friday after four months on the run.

Abdeslam is behind bars in a high security jail on charges of "terrorist murder" for his role in the November 13 gun and suicide attacks on the French capital, which killed 130 people.

The Belgian-born French citizen, who was caught unarmed after being shot in the leg during a police raid in Brussels, told interrogators he had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium in Paris but had backed out at the last minute.

A day after his capture, the 26-year-old was taken to a maximum security prison in the northwestern city of Bruges.

Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary said his client would fight his extradition to Paris beginning with a legal complaint against a French prosecutor who divulged the details of the first interrogation with the suspect to journalists on Saturday.

"I don't understand why a prosecutor in Paris has to communicate at this stage on an investigation in Belgium," Mary told Le Soir newspaper on Sunday.

Abdeslam "is worth gold. He is collaborating, he's communicating, he is not using his right to remain silent," Mary said, urging patience.

- Abdeslam 'ready' with Brussels plot -

Meanwhile Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders suggested that Abdeslam was also plotting to do something in the Belgian capital.

"He was ready to restart something in Brussels," Reynders was quoted in a statement as saying at a panel discussion.

"And it may be the reality because we have found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons, in the first investigations and we have found a new network around him in Brussels," he added.

Reynders, speaking in English at the Brussels Forum, an annual US-organised transatlantic conference, said police were still working to track down suspects involved in the attacks in which 130 people died.

"We are sure that for the moment we have found more than 30 people involved in the terrorist attacks in Paris, but we are sure there are others," he said.

Paris prosector Francois Molins on Saturday told reporters Abdeslam had played a "central role" in planning the November attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall and were claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).

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.

But he changed his mind at the last minute, he said.

Days after the attacks an explosives-filled suicide vest was found in Paris in an area where mobile phone signals indicated Abdeslam had been.

French President Francois Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit when the raid took place Friday, said shortly afterwards that he wanted to see Abdeslam transferred to France as quickly as possible to face prosecution.

- Threat level remains high -

Abdeslam's arrest in the gritty Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels was hailed by European and US leaders, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it dealt a "major blow" to IS jihadists 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.

At the Neuville-en-Ferrain border post in northern France Sunday, vehicles heading into Belgium were being checked, although customs officials told AFP it was part of routine controls in place since November.

Abdeslam is meanwhile behind bars in solitary confinement at the Bruges high-security prison alongside Mehdi Nemmouche, who carried out a fatal attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014.

Former small-time criminal Abdeslam is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-man jihadist team that carried out 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.

© 2016 AFP

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