Salah Abdeslam: Paris terror suspect says he ‘didn’t know’ about the Brussels attacks

Abdeslam says he wants to be extradited to France to 'explain himself' following his arrest in Brussels

The chief suspect for last year’s Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, wants to be extradited to France to “explain himself” following his arrest in Brussels, his lawyer has said.

At the same time, Abdeslam insisted he “didn’t know” about Tuesday’s bombings at Brussels Airport and on a metro train, despite his links to the men assumed to be behind the attacks in the Belgian capital that killed 31 people. 

Abdeslam, 26, appeared before judges in Brussels, six days after his dramatic capture in the city, following a four-month manhunt. He is believed to be the last survivor from the 10-man Isis cell  responsible for November’s Paris massacre. 

While his lawyer, Sven Mary, initially said he would resist French attempts at a quick extradition, he revealed that Abdeslam had changed his mind. “Salah Abdeslam told me that he wishes to leave for France as soon as possible,” Mr Mary said outside the city law courts. “The most important part of the file is in France. His explanations have to go there.” 

The change of heart on extradition to France is thought to be an attempt to distance himself from accomplices involved in the Brussels attacks.

Abdeslam was known to be friends with Najim Laachraoui, the alleged bomb-maker of the Paris and Brussels attacks, who is thought to have blown himself up at Brussels Airport. 

Abdeslam is being held in a maximum-security jail in Bruges. Europe’s most wanted man was caught close to his family home in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital: he sustained a wounded leg as special forces hauled him out of a bolt hole in his home neighbourhood. He had been on the run since the 13 November Paris suicide bomb and gun attacks in which 130 people died. 

Asked if his client had prior knowledge about Tuesday’s attacks, Mr Mary said: “He didn’t know it.” 

Mr Mary added that investigators had visited Abdeslam in prison after the bombings, but he denied that the Brussels-born French national had helped the police. “I wouldn’t want him to clam up over lots of things,” Mr Mary said. “If he stopped talking, it would run the risk of more Zaventem and other Bataclans,” he said, referring to the Brussels airport attacked on Tuesday and the Paris concert hall attacked last November. 

Abdeslam’s case will be reviewed on 7 April by a Belgian court, where he will face a European arrest warrant issued by France. 

He has been linked to the Brussels attacks by fingerprints found at an Isis safe house in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest, where police also found detonators. 

Police are still hunting for Abdeslam’s childhood friend Mohamed Abrini, who was filmed at a petrol station after driving him on a French motorway two days before the Paris attacks. They describe him as “armed and dangerous”.