BELGIUM – Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured alive Friday, a Belgian counter-terrorism source told CNN.
Belgium’s state broadcaster reported that the Belgian-born French citizen was injured in a shootout that ended with his capture. The Belgian counter-terrorism source said two people were wounded.
“We have him,” tweeted Theo Francken, Belgium’s state secretary for asylum policy and migration.
The 26-year-old Abdeslam was brought to a hospital after being shot in the leg, CNN Belgium affiliate VTM reported, citing a police source. The same broadcaster said two suspects may still be in the house in Molenbeek where Abdeslam was captured.
Three explosions were heard in that area early Friday evening, CNN French affiliate BFMTV reported, though it wasn’t clear if those were controlled blasts or part of a continuing operation.
Molenbeek, the impoverished Brussels suburb where Friday’s raid took place, has a reputation as a hotbed for jihadism. Several members of its large, predominantly Muslim population — many of whom are first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from North Africa — have been linked to terror plots and attacks.
Last fall, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens cited Molenbeek as a place where more needs to be done to address what he called Belgium’s “foreign fighter problem.”
And in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks that left 130 dead, authorities conducted raids there and detained numerous individuals. One was Mohammed Abdeslam, the brother of the wanted man captured Friday, who was taken into custody and later released.
Mohammed Abdeslam told Belgian state broadcaster RTBF that he thinks Salah at the “last minute … decided to reconsider” carrying out an attack himself November 13 — ones that ended, in the other cases, with the assailants dead.
One of those who did follow through was another brother, Ibrahim Abdeslam, the suicide bomber who detonated explosives outside a cafe on Paris’ Boulevard Voltaire.
1 killed in Tuesday raid
Earlier Friday, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office revealed that the 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprints and DNA were found in a Brussels apartment raided three days earlier. One person was killed and two people escaped that operation, according to authorities.
The man killed by a special forces sniper was Mohamed Belkaid, an Algerian who used the name Samir Bouzid, and who is believed to have directed the Paris attackers via calls from Belgium, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Belkaid is believed to have helped Abdeslam travel prior to the attacks and transferred money to a female cousin of Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud following the attack, the Belgian senior counter-terrorism official told CNN in January.
Authorities believe Abdeslam was using the apartment as a hideout following the Paris attacks, according to the Belgian counter-terrorism official.
His possible escape spurred an intense manhunt in a country already on guard after last fall’s attacks in the French capital.
Belgian federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van der Sypt noted earlier this week — prior to Friday’s raid — that authorities had searched more than 100 houses and arrested 58 people as part of the post-Paris probe. Another 23 people have been arrested “in linked investigations,” he said then.
Suspect thought to have dropped off Paris bomber
Investigators think Abdeslam may have been the driver of a black Renault Clio that dropped off three suicide bombers near the Stade de France, one of the attack sites near Paris. They also believe he had worn a suicide belt found on a Paris street after the attacks.
He is believed to have called friends to take him to Belgium after the attacks. They passed through police checkpoints, but Abdeslam had not yet been identified as a suspect and they were allowed to continue on their way.
Surveillance video emerged of him and another man at a gas station near the Belgian border the day after the attacks.
He has eluded authorities ever since.
In January, authorities found traces of explosives and Abdeslam’s fingerprints in another Brussels apartment.
Some theories suggested he had returned to Syria following the attacks.