19 Mar 2016

Paris terror suspect caught in Brussels

11:30 am on 19 March 2016

The most wanted fugitive from the Paris terror attacks has been wounded and caught in a shootout in Brussels, officials say.

Armed policemen near the scene in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels, where Salah Abdeslam was apparently wounded and captured.

Armed policemen near the scene in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels, where Salah Abdeslam was apparently wounded and taken into custody. Photo: AFP

Salah Abdeslam, who has been on the run since the November attacks, was wounded in the leg as the police moved in on a flat in the Molenbeek area, the Belgian officials said.

He was a key suspect in the jihadist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives.

Two explosions were heard afterwards, followed by more shots.

Wall Street Journal's Gabriel Steinhauser was telling CNN she had heard an explosion from inside the cordon, when she reported hearing a second explosion.

Local journalist Dirk Coosemans told CNN a few minutes later he heard shots after the two explosions.

"First there were two explosions, I guess that was police throwing grenades to see if there was anyone else in the building and then there were shots fired," he said.

Television footage showed masked, black-clad security forces guarding a street in the capital and reporters at the scene describe white smoke rising from a rooftop.

Belgian media also reported that a second man, Soufiane Kayal, was arrested with Mr Abdeslam and a third man could still be in the Brussels flat raided early on Friday evening.

Kayal was said to be linked to Mohamed Belkaid, the Algerian shot dead in the police raid in Brussels on Tuesday.

Salah Abdeslam is suspected of being among the assailants who killed about 130 people in Paris on Friday 13 November.

Salah Abdeslam is suspected of being among the assailants who killed about 130 people in Paris on Friday 13 November. Photo: AFP

Mr Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national born in Brussels, had lived in Molenbeek before the 13 November attacks.

He was believed to have returned to Belgium immediately after the attacks, in which his brother Brahim blew himself up.

In addition to the fugitive and another suspect linked to the Paris attacks, Belgian police said they were holding three other people, all members of the family that had sheltered Abdeslam.

He had been the subject of a massive manhunt since the attacks, responsibility for which was claimed by militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference the morning's events were part of a long-standing operation.

He said that within a few months more than 100 searches had taken place, resulting in 58 people being arrested.

He was flanked by the French President Francois Hollande who described the capture of Mr Abdeslam as a significant moment.

A man identified as Algerian national Mohamed Belkaid, who was linked to the Paris attacks, was shot dead during a raid at another Brussels flat on Tuesday.

The authorities said Mr Abdeslam's fingerprints had been found in the flat.

Samy Amimour, Foued Mohamed-Aggad and Omar Ismail Mostefai, who attacked the Bataclan theatre in Paris, killing 90.

Samy Amimour, Foued Mohamed-Aggad and Omar Ismail Mostefai, who attacked the Bataclan theatre in Paris, killing 90. All three blew themselves up at the music venue. Photo: AFP

His elder brother was among the suicide bombers who killed themselves during the gun and bomb rampage in the French capital.

Officials have identified most of the people they believe to have carried out the assaults.

Most of the suspects either died during the attacks or were killed in subsequent police raids.

Parts of Brussels were sealed off for days after the Paris massacre amid fears of a major incident. Several suspected attackers lived in the Belgian capital.

- BBC