Police In Brussels Arrest Key Suspect In Paris Attacks Salah Abdeslam
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A global manhunt is over. Police have captured the only surviving suspect from the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. They found 26-year-old Saleh Abdeslam in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. He was among five people arrested. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston covered the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, and she joins us with the latest. Hi Dina - excuse me.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: That's OK.
SIEGEL: What can you tell us about Abdeslam's arrest?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, he was one of the most wanted men in the world. He's a Belgian-born French citizen of Moroccan descent. And his picture had been circulated everywhere. Now, he's thought to have driven the car that carried a team of terrorists to the French national soccer stadium on November 13. And one of his brothers, Ibrahim, blew himself up outside the stadium. French President Francois Hollande happened to be in Belgium for a meeting of European leaders today, and he joined a press conference to express his relief about the arrest.
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FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) I'm thinking of the victims right now of the attacks of the 13 of November in Paris and Saint-Denis because Saleh Abdeslam is directly linked to the organization and preparation and sadly the perpetration of this terrible attack.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That was the French president speaking through an interpreter on CNN during a press conference earlier today.
SIEGEL: Now, Abdeslam was arrested with four other men. What do we know about them?
TEMPLE-RASTON: We don't know much, except that they were taken alive. And that fact is really important because all these men could be huge sources of intelligence. Abdeslam was the lone survivor of the terror team, and he can provide an amazing amount of information. Intelligence officials told me the first thing the French and Belgian officials will ask will be what's the next operation? Is there an imminent attack, and how do they stop it? After that, they'll ask about the network that has clearly been protecting him for the past four months. He could tell them about training and planning for the Paris operation. Was it easy or difficult? How did the guns and the suicide vests get to Paris? How much was ISIS in Syria involved? These are all really important details that can help officials.
SIEGEL: And presumably these suspects can talk about how ISIS operates in Syria, too.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. You know, Abdeslam and the other attackers were all in Syria together. They trained there. He could provide vital information about how leaders move around, where recruits are housed. He can talk about how people get back and forth between Europe and Syria, whether ISIS is trying to sneak people in with migrants. He can talk about financing and money flows, who else might be sent to attack. I mean, there's just no question this is a huge break for investigators.
SIEGEL: These are things that Abdeslam could talk about if he talks. I mean, do authorities expect that he will talk?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, intelligence officials told me they see a number of really good signs that he might. It's unclear whether his suicide vest, which was found abandoned in Paris after the attacks, was abandoned because it malfunctioned or whether he had a crisis of conscience at the last minute. Why didn't he escape to Syria if he'd been sent by ISIS? He has an older brother who didn't kill himself. And in the aftermath of the attacks, he came out on television and talked about Saleh and begged him to turn himself in. That brother could be used to convince Saleh Abdeslam to help authorities. And we haven't even mentioned what they might find in these apartments that they raided where these men were arrested or what their cell phones might contain. I mean, the French president said he would be asking Belgium for Abdeslam's extradition, so we expect that to happen very soon.
SIEGEL: And the French president, to repeat, did say that he expects more arrests to continue in the investigations into the attacks of November 13.
TEMPLE-RASTON: He also said that is a vast network, and they're only just sort of scratching the surface of it.
SIEGEL: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, thanks.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.