Paris terror attacks: Friend of suspect Salah Abdeslam says 'I didn’t see any sign of hatred in him whatsoever'

Exclusive: Abdel Ben Alal grew up in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels with the man suspected of being the eighth perpetrator of last week's deadly attacks in the French capital

Amelia Jenne
Brussels
Wednesday 18 November 2015 00:47 GMT
Comments
Salah Abdeslam
Salah Abdeslam (AFP)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

A friend of Salah Abdeslam, the man suspected of being the eighth perpetrator of last Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris who is currently on the run, has told The Independent he could “never, ever, ever have imagined it could be the same person [he] knew”.

Abdel Ben Alal, a 27-year-old deliveryman who grew up in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels said “he was someone who studied hard and who was well educated. We went to the same school and played football together”.

Mr Alal says he heard that his friend had been in contact by phone with the suspected mastermind of the attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud, also 27, who he used to know when he was younger.

His description of Abaaoud is far removed from the man filmed dragging dead bodies tied to the back of a truck along a road in Syria, where he has risen through Isis ranks since early 2013.

Belgian police stage a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek
Belgian police stage a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek (Reuters)

“I used to know him when I was around 20. He loved motorbikes and we used to ride around on motorbikes together. He was a shopkeeper so he didn’t want for anything. It’s not like he needed money or committed crimes then – he had his business.”

Mr Alal says he saw Salah Abdeslam around a month before the attacks and nothing seemed amiss: “We chatted and talked about school and sports – I didn’t see any sign of hatred in him whatsoever”.

“I know he was interested by everything that was going on in Syria and Palestine. When we went for drinks together – his brother had a bar, a little local place – I noticed he was interested in discussing that, while the rest of us would just want to play card games.”

When Mr Alal and his friends saw his photo in the press they were in a state of shock.

He says Molenbeek, a Brussels neighbourhood home to 100 thousand and an increasingly young population, feels more like a village.

We’re not under the wing of those idiots who pray on young or isolated people. Those kind of people are the dregs of society, they are imbeciles

&#13; <p>Abdel Ben Alal</p>&#13;

“Everyone knows each other here, everyone helps each other out. The media is saying Molenbeek is the cradle of jihadism – but the vast majority of people here would never think like that”.

While volunteering at a charity for the homeless in the neighbourhood however, one of Mr Alal's relatives was approached by someone who tried to encourage him to go to Syria.

“He wasn’t influenced by them one bit. He stopped volunteering”, says Mr Alal. “We’re not under the wing of those idiots who pray on young or isolated people. Those kind of people are the dregs of society, they are imbeciles.”

“I’ve heard people saying all people from here are radical. That’s false, that’s disappointing and that’s sad”, he says.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in