(B2) The information fell in the middle of the European Council on Friday (March 18) at the end of the afternoon. Searches are underway in Molenbeek, a Brussels municipality. A more than serious matter. So much so that the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel hastily left the meeting to join the "16" (the seat of government located rue de la Loi) without even holding the usual final press conference. A few minutes later, the information spreads. The searches concern Salah Adbelslam. He was neutralized by the Belgian police.
François Hollande alerted
French President François Hollande, who has already started his final press conference, seems concerned. He then refuses to officially confirm the information. But on the side of the presidential chairs, it is agitated. His military assistant talks with the presidential advisers. A sign is made to cut short the conference. The president isolates himself for a few minutes. He passes into the nearby British room, which is empty, with his entourage. Presidential security ensures that no one is 'dragging' in the room. He then returns for a few moments to see the last journalists (including B2) remaining in the French press room. But he refuses to confirm the information. " You know you always have to be very careful in this type of business. (...) I can only tell you that there are three people involved ". Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Franken (N-VA) has already spilled the beans, tweeting a "We hebben hem" (we have it). Tweet that he will quickly remove.
In fact, François Hollande had, on the telephone, the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, who gave him the inventory and confirmed the information. However, there is no question for him of making an untimely declaration, in solo, on an intervention carried out mainly by Belgians on Belgian territory, even if it closely concerns France. Politically, it is a question of not making any missteps that could lead to controversy and rather of marking the good Franco-Belgian understanding. It is thus decided that he will not make any intervention except the joint one with the Belgian leader.
In the bunker at 16 rue de la Loi
François Hollande then left the European summit very quickly to join his Belgian counterpart at the seat of government. His stay in Belgium is prolonged. The two leaders are joined by the Belgian federal prosecutor and the general commissioner Catherine de Boll. They are informed in real time of the progress of the operation. Another hour passes. It's around 20:30 p.m. Charles Michel and François Hollande speak live, jointly, from the press room at "16 rue de la loi", deep in the basement of the Prime Minister's headquarters. The opportunity for them to underline this good Franco-Belgian cooperation throughout this hunt which lasted several months between Paris and Brussels but also in several European cities.
A long hunt of 4 months
Salah Abdeslam: the escape of the Parisian terrorist
Salah Abdeslam is one of the main suspects, still alive from the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people (read: Paris attacks. Several European victims and other countries). Qualified a little quickly as the mastermind of the attack, he held more the role of logistician. His flight, out of France, smoothly carried out, finally brought him back to his adopted commune in Molenbeek. To find him, the Belgian and French police have spared no effort (Read: Belgians and French together. Federal prosecutor provides update on investigation). For 4 months, under the influence of a European arrest warrant, they are " more than 100 searches and 58 people arrested in Belgium, points out Charles Michel.
Footprints all over Brussels
Abdeslam's fingerprints were found in several places in the European capital. First in the town of Schaerbeek, the day after the attacks of November 13. His fingerprints are then found in an apartment on the third floor of rue Henri Bergé. He hid there for nearly 20 days, according to Belgian media. He fled shortly before the police found the hideout on December 9. Three months later, Abdeslam has not, in fact, reached Syria, as some have said. He's always on the streets he knows.
The Franco-Belgian investigation team under fire
Tuesday (March 15), a routine search in Forest, rue de Dries, a few hundred meters from the large Forest National concert hall, almost turned tragic. At 14:15 p.m., a team of six Belgian and two French police officers came under fire. " As soon as the apartment door was opened, at least two people armed with a riot gun and a Kalashnikov immediately opened fire on the police “, will explain shortly after a member of the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office. " A brief but heavy exchange of fire ensued, and three of the six police officers were slightly injured, including a French policewoman ". Mohamed Belkaid (alias Samir Bouzid), one of Salah Abdeslam's accomplices (1), was killed during this operation. Weapons and ammunition are found on site. But Salah Abdeslam, whose fingerprints were found on the spot, took to their heels in the company of an accomplice. His flight only lasted three days...
Three searches in the Brussels region
When the operation starts this Friday (March 18), at 16:30 p.m., the police know that they can fall on the one who is qualified as enemy number 1. They do not skimp on the means. The special units of the federal police, hoods on their heads, are present, with precision weapons. Police officers from the Brussels PJ and French people are also there. The perimeter is cordoned off by the local police and the population kept at a distance. In the air, a police helicopter keeps watch (NB: a usual procedure in Brussels to allow aerial surveillance of the entire environment and assistance to ground units). Three searches took place almost simultaneously: two in Molenbeek (rue de la Savonnerie and rue des Quatre vents) and one in Jette. Three suspects are spotted.
Wounded in the leg and arrested
Wounded "slightly" in the leg, by an immobilization shot, Abdeslam was finally arrested by the police, along with a second suspect, Amine Choukri, also injured (2). It is 18:15 p.m., the bulk of the intervention is over. The wounded are brought by the ambulances of the firefighters, under good escort, to the Saint-Pierre Hospital. A third person is also arrested, Abid Aberkan, a friend of Abdeslam. His mother, who lodged his friend, Sian Aberkan, and his partner, Djemila M., are also arrested.
The judicial phase
The hunt for Abdeslam is over... Begins the judicial phase, "directly linked to the organization and perpetration of the Paris attacks" asserted Francois Hollande. A Special Defense Council, on the French side, is taking place this Saturday in Paris. There are still a few suspects at large. But the investigation is not over. " It's far from over, but it's progressing.", confirms the federal prosecutor Thierry Weerts. " Salah Abdeslam is not public enemy number one, there may be others. »
(update) Salah Abdeslam and Amine Choukri have been charged “ participation in terrorist killings and participation in the activities of a terrorist group “Announced the prosecution Saturday (March 19), afternoon. While Abid Aberkan has been charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist group and harboring criminals »
(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde & Johanna Bouquet, with Lucas Millet)
(1) Salah Abdeslam had been checked on September 9, 2015, on the journey between Hungary and Austria aboard a Mercedes, in the company of two people: the famous Samir Bouzid (a false identity) and a third man who also carried a false identity card in the name Soufiane Kayal. It was not the first time he had visited the country. The search notice issued on December 4, 2015 thus specified that Salah Abdeslam had traveled twice to Budapest in Hungary during the month of September 2015 by means of a rental vehicle. As for the false identity card in the name of Samir Bouzid, it " was also used four days after the attacks in Paris, on November 17 around 18 p.m., in a Western Union agency in the Brussels Region said the federal prosecutor on Friday (March 18). " It was from there that a sum of 750 euros was transferred to Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Both will die shortly after during the assault in Saint-Denis. Images had been recorded during this transfer of money. »
(2) Choukri had “ was checked with Salah Abdeslam in Ulm (Germany) on October 3” last. During this check, his fingerprints had been noted ". They " were later taken from the house used by the terrorist group in Auvelais ". One " false Syrian passport in the name of Monir Ahmed Alaaj and a false Belgian identity card in the name of Amine Choukri were found during the intervention rue du Dries in Forest”.
(completed Saturday morning 19.3 with the indications of the Federal Prosecutor's Office)