Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the terrorists who attacked Paris in November last year, was captured in a Brussels raid last week.
Abdeslam traveled back to Belgium the day after carrying out the attack, where he remained unnoticed for months. Police were drawn to Brussels after finding two apartments with his fingerprints inside, but he was able to elude them for weeks. There was even some speculation that he had fled to Syria.
However, on Friday afternoon Belgian police finally found Abdeslam, the most wanted man in Europe.
He is believed to be the only surviving member of the terrorists who carried out the November 13 attacks on Paris – Europe’s worst attack in 11 years.
Abdeslam was hiding out in the same Brussels neighbourhood where he grew up when he was surrounded by heavily-armed officers. He walked into the street holding a handgun, but was captured by police after being shot in the knee.
His capture could potentially offer plenty of insight into the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people and wounded over 400 more. Intelligence agencies will have the opportunity to interrogate Abdeslam about the ties between the Paris attacks and the Islamic State. Officials believe the plot behind the attack is much larger and more complex than they first thought.
Belgian police have also arrested three members of a family, charging them with sheltering and protecting Abdeslam.
Abdeslam is a French citizen who was born in Belgium and is of Moroccan descent. He is believed to have driven other terrorists to the French national soccer stadium on the day of the attacks. His brother Ibrahim also took part, through suicide bombing as part of a separate team of attackers.
“This evening is a huge success in the battle against terrorism,” said Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium at a news conference with French President Francois Hollande.
Hollande said he will be seeking the extradition of Abdeslam to try him in France.
“Although this arrest is an important step, it is not the final conclusion,” he said. “We must catch all those who enabled, organized, or facilitated these attacks, and we are realizing that they are much more numerous than we had originally thought and identified.”
The operation involved three separate raids in two Brussels neighbourhoods. Eric Van der Sijpt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, said it was possible Abdeslam had been in the area for “days, weeks, or months.”
The neighbourhoods filled with journalists and angry bystanders as police operations began. Many in the area have protested what they perceive to be unfair and constant interrogations by police following the attacks. Others were happy to see the capture.
“When everything was okay, people were leaning out their windows, applauding the police,” said Christophe Van Damme, a contractor who lived a few yards away from where the raid took place.