New Delhi: Close on the heels of the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the November 13 Paris attack that left several dead, from Brussels on Friday, the Belgian capital was today witness to a series of explosions that first rocked its busy airport during morning rush and then the subway metro rail.
There are at least 23 people dead – 13 in the airport attack and 10 at the metro station – as a result of the multiple attacks. These numbers are likely to go up. High alerts have been issued and all airports and train stations have been shut down.
While Brussels comes to terms with the tragedy that just struck them, there is speculation if the arrest of Abdeslam had anything to do with it. Here, we bring you some key information regarding the Paris suspect, billed as the ‘Public Enemy No 1’ in Europe before and after his arrest:
Burnt down family house at 14
Born on September 15, 1989, in Brussels, Belgium, Abdeslam was born to immigrant parents who were living in Bouyafar, a small village in northern Morocco, before arriving in Brussels in the 1960s. Although the family resided in Belgium, they were all French nationals, having acquired French nationality from the time the parents lived in Algeria. Abdeslam and Abdelhamid Abaaoud were friends as children. Their friendship reportedly continued well into adulthood. According to Belgian newspaper Le Derniere Heure, he burnt down the family home at the age of 14.
A ‘pothead’, mechanic and a bar manager
Reports cite Abdeslam as a reputed user of cannabis, a regular consumer of alcohol and known to frequent gay bars. From 2009-11, he worked as a mechanic where his employment was allegedly terminated for his involvement in a crime that cost him a month in prison. December 2013 onward, he worked as a manager in a bar located West of Brussels. Abdeslam and his brother – who blew himself up during the attack – sold off the bar six weeks before the attack. Abdeslam's brother Brahim was also caught in Turkey earlier in 2015 after attempting to travel to Syria.
A ‘petty criminal’?
Reports cite police authorities being in the know of Abdeslam’s alleged criminal activities. However, they only regarded him as a petty criminal. There is also information of Abdeslam and his friend Abaaoud being imprisoned for armed robbery in the year 2010. According to the lawyer representing Abaaoud, his client and Abdeslam were arrested in December 2010 for attempting to break into a parking garage. As per official records, Abdeslam was found guilty of breaking and entering in February 2011. In February 2015, he was arrested by Dutch police and charged for possession of cannabis where he was fined €70.
‘He was ready to restart something in Brussels’
Soon after his arrest, the Belgian Foreign Minister had said, “He was ready to restart something in Brussels 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.” In fact, the French Interior minister had warned of a revenge post Abdeslam’s arrest.
He travelled to six countries before the attack
Nine months prior to the Paris attacks, Abdeslam was said to have travelled to six countries, including Germany and Austria, which he visited in October 2015, according to the German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière. After his arrest and subsequent questioning, the French public prosecutor stated that Abdeslam was travelling throughout the countries as an effort to transport individuals, who would later be involved in the attacks, into Europe.
The Paris attacks
Abdeslam was reportedly found guilty of involvement in the November 13 Paris attacks. He was involved in renting cars, hotel rooms and flats for all involved in the terror strike. According to investigators, Abdeslam rented a black Volkswagen Polo to drive the Bataclan theatre attackers. Both Salah and Brahim Abdeslam were traced to two vehicles, a SEAT and the rented Volkswagen. Occupants of the car also shot individuals at the Casa Nostra pizza restaurant and the La Belle Equipe cafe, the probe has found. According to one of the investigators, Abdeslam planned to blow himself up during the attack at Stade de France but "backed out" at the last minute. His abandoned suicide vest was found 10 days later.
A pizza order that led to his arrest
Having managed to successfully evade being captured by authorities for over four months, he was captured on Friday, March 18, 2016, in an anti-terror police raid on a flat located in the Molenbeek suburb in Brussels. Abdeslam was shot through the leg during the operation. Authorities reportedly got suspicious after a person in the flat made an unusually large pizza order. Upon arriving at the scene, authorities found the woman who made the food order with two other adults, children, and Abdeslam.
Salah Abdeslam is "worth his weight in gold" to investigators, his lawyer has said. "He is collaborating... He is not maintaining his right to remain silent," BBC quoted his lawyer Sven Mary. His imp[ortance to the probe is crucial as he is the only surviving participant in the attacks in police custody. There were speculations of him turning an informer but that theory was rejected by his lawyer on Sunday. Abdeslam is currently fighting his extradition to France.