Inside The Dramatic Arrest That Caught Principal Suspect In Paris Attacks
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We begin the program in Belgium today where the man believed to be the last survivor of the group that carried out the November terrorist attacks in Paris has been formally charged. Salah Abdeslam is charged with participating in terrorist murder and in a terrorist organization. Teri Schultz has been following the developments from Brussels since the dramatic arrest yesterday. Teri, thanks so much for joining us.
TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Hello Michel.
MARTIN: So what can you tell us about Salah Abdeslam?
SCHULTZ: Well, we're learning more about him today after his arrest. And the latest news coming from the prosecutor in Paris is that Salah Abdeslam has admitted to Belgian investigators he was in Paris on November 13, and he did plan to blow himself up. But Abdeslam says he had a change of heart. The prosecutor in Paris says this early statement taken within just 24 hours of Abdeslam's capture should be treated with caution. But if true, it would put to rest the months of speculation as to why this man survived to return to his hometown of Brussels and go on the run for 126 days. French authorities have issued a new arrest warrant for Abdeslam today. And the Belgian government says it will extradite him as soon as possible, but his attorney says they'll fight that order.
MARTIN: So Teri, I understand that there were four other people arrested yesterday as part of the same operation. Can you tell us anything about them?
SCHULTZ: Yeah, there was another man arrested with Abdeslam, and he's facing the same terrorism-related charges. But as far as we know, investigators have very little information about his real identity.
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: He wasn't identified. They've got him in custody, but they don't know his name because he was carrying a fake Belgian ID card and a fake Syrian passport. But it is possible that this guy was also one of the guys who were actually organizing everything from within Brussels.
SCHULTZ: Van Ostaeyen says this man's fingerprints have not been found in any criminal database. But local media report that fake Syrian passport he was carrying was used in September to enter Europe through Greece. The other two people arrested are members of a family that was harboring Abdeslam just a block away from where he himself had lived before the attacks.
MARTIN: I can imagine that Belgian authorities are very pleased at having made this rest. But is this seen as a turning point in addressing terrorist cells in Belgium?
SCHULTZ: Well, of course, Belgian officials are saying it is. They're very relieved and proud to have taken Europe's most-wanted fugitive alive so that it will be possible to learn more about these networks of radicalized Europeans believed to have strong ties to Islamic State. And about a dozen other people are in jail now as a result of the investigation that began with the November attacks. But as terrorism researcher Pieter Van Ostaeyen told me, we won't really know how important these latest arrests are until we hear from Salah Abdeslam, and that is if he talks.
MARTIN: That was Teri Schultz speaking to us from Brussels, where she's been following the latest developments in the arrest of the man believed to be the last surviving person who carried out the November terrorist attacks in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.