The prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks may have been plotting more operations with the help of a weapons cache and a network of associates, Belgium’s foreign minister said yesterday (20 March).
Didier Reynders, speaking two days after the capture of Salah Abdeslam, said the suspect’s first statement to a magistrate in Brussels suggested further attacks were planned.
“He was ready to restart something from Brussels,” Reynders told a think-tank event. “That is maybe the reality, because we have found a lot of heavy weapons and we have seen a new network around him.”
Reynders said Belgium and France had so far found around 30 people involved in the gun and bomb attacks that killed 130 people on 13 November in bars, a sports stadium and a concert hall in the French capital.
Gunmen killed more than 120 people in a wave of attacks across Paris on Friday (13 November), shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they massacred scores of diners and concert-goers and launched suicide attacks outside the national stadium.
Capturing Abdeslam alive marks a breakthrough for authorities investigating the deadliest militant strikes in Europe since 2004. Islamic State has claimed responsibility, and the United States warned on Sunday that it would try to repeat such atrocities.
The 26-year-old French national told a Belgian magistrate on Saturday he had planned to take part in the stadium attack. The admission was disclosed to reporters by the lead French investigator, François Molins.
At a Paris news conference on Saturday, Molins read from Abdeslam’s statement, saying: “He wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France and, I quote, backed out.”
Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary said on Sunday he would sue Molins for making the comment public, calling it a violation of judicial confidentiality.
“I cannot let this pass,” Mary told Belgian state broadcaster RTBF. Mary’s office was not available for comment, but RTBF said he would start legal proceedings on Monday.
Others at large
Abdeslam, who was shot in the leg and caught by police in Brussels after an intense four-month manhunt, spent his first night in a high security prison in the northwestern Belgian city of Bruges. He is due to appear before a judge in Brussels on Wednesday.
“Our investigation must show how he managed to hide from police and security forces,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told European broadcaster RTL. Belgium’s federal prosecutor has said the fugitive relied on a network of friends and relatives involved in drug dealing and petty crime.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the United States was working closely with European authorities to ensure they had the necessary training and intelligence to be able to prevent another Paris-style attack.
“They say they intend to do this again, so we take that very seriously, and we are trying to draw lessons from what happened on that terrible night in Paris,” McDonough told the Fox News Sunday television program.
Belgian prosecutors have charged Abdeslam and a man arrested with him with “participation in terrorist murder”.
Abdeslam’s lawyer said his client admitted being in Paris during the attacks but would fight extradition to France. His elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar, was among the suicide bombers.
Authorities hope the arrest may help disrupt other militant cells that Michel said were at large.
“There is a real threat. There are many, many people in Europe who have been radicalised, who are both from Syrian war zones and those who have grown up among us. There is a colossal amount of intelligence work to do,” Michel said.