Paris terrorist suspect Salah Abdeslam questioned in military custody
Paris terrorist suspect Salah Abdeslam “didn’t mean anything” when he was first questioned by French anti-terrorism judges, one of his lawyers said.
- Authorities hope Abdeslam will shed light on operational details of Paris attacks
- Abdeslam has been held under high security since his extradition to France in April
- Police continue to try to investigate links between attacks in Paris and Belgium
The 26-year-old arrived for questioning in central Paris under high security, escorted by military police, elite police units and a helicopter.
But Abdeslam said he was ready “to speak at a later date,” his French lawyer Frank Berton said.
Authorities hope Abdeslam will be able to shed light on operational details of the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, as well as provide clues as to whether other cell members are still at large. .
Abdeslam was Europe’s most wanted fugitive for months, until he was found and arrested on March 18 in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, where he grew up.
Transferred to France under high security on April 27, he has since been detained at Fleury-Mérogis prison, south-east of Paris.
Childhood friend of the alleged leader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Abdeslam would have played a key role both on the night of the Paris attacks and in their preparation.
Two others were arrested in France in connection with the attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State (IS) group, but they are considered secondary participants.
Abdeslam played a key role in dropping off the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France national stadium in northern Paris.
He is believed to have refrained from blowing himself up.
Authorities found an abandoned explosives vest in a southern Paris neighborhood near where his cell phone data placed it on the night of the attacks.
CCTV footage from gas stations showed him fleeing to Belgium after two friends picked him up.
Abdeslam also played a vital role in preparing for the Paris attacks, renting out the cars and hideouts used by the gang.
It has also transported several other jihadists across Europe in previous months, including Najim Laachraoui, the alleged bomb maker for the November attacks, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Brussels on March 22.
The coordinated attacks in Brussels that day also hit a metro station, killing a total of 32 people.
Police investigate links between attacks in Paris and Belgium
French police hope Abdeslam can also shed light on the links between the attacks in Paris and Belgium, both carried out by a network linked to ISIS.
Mr Berton said Abdeslam “wants to explain himself”.
But few expect major revelations.
“The investigators have only him in custody. He could help if he collaborates, either to confirm elements of the investigation, or to give new leads,” said Gérard Chemla, lawyer representing about fifty of the victims and their families from the Paris attacks, mentioned.
“However, we shouldn’t hang on to his every word and wait for sensational revelations.”
Mr Chemla said police have already done much of the essential work in dismantling the network.
“The first talks are often about denials. Maybe we should let the process go on for a while,” said Jean Reinhart, another lawyer representing some of the victims.
Mr Reinhart said he did not expect repentance or “great sincerity” from the suspect.
Abdeslam’s lawyer before his extradition from Brussels, Sven Mary, called him a “little idiot” with “the intelligence of an empty ashtray”.
Mr Mary also said Abdeslam was “more of a follower than a leader”, although some argued he could act to reduce his liability.
During his two interrogations in Belgium, Abdeslam gave the impression that he was just a pawn of Abaaoud and his own brother Brahim, who blew himself up in front of a Parisian cafe during the attacks.
But he has already been caught in a lie, claiming that he had only met Abaaoud once before, when in fact they had a case of teenage delinquency together in Molenbeek.