World

Luck runs out for alleged mastermind of Paris attacks

He was caught in Belgium on Friday after four months on the run

As the world's most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, 26, had lived a charmed life as an escape artist.

Despite Europe's elite anti-terror outfits being in hot pursuit, the alleged mastermind of last November's Paris attacks always managed to wriggle out of the elaborate dragnet set for him.

But on Friday, his luck finally ran out when Belgian authorities smoked him out of a house in his home district of Molenbeek - a suburb of Brussels infamously known as the "hot bed of jihadism".

For a man who was at large for more than four months, he had an unusual degree of good fortune, The Telegraph reported.

Of all his escapes, the most interesting one happened in Molenbeek.

Detectives had managed to track him to a flat, but they were prohibited from storming the house because of one of Belgium's quirkier laws - it prevents police from entering homes between 9pm and 5am unless a crime is in progress or the house is on fire.

By the time the heavily-armed elite team entered the house at 5am, he was long gone. And he was helped in another way - the authorities had failed to seal off the neighbourhood.

He had other escapes too, starting mere hours after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people. He was supposed to blow himself up but instead managed to flee to Brussels.

He was stopped by the French authorities near the Belgian border the next day, but they did not know he was a wanted man. They were notified only 15 minutes after he was waved through.

It was one of the three lucky escapes. During that journey, he was apparently stopped thrice by police but was not arrested.

There was speculation last Tuesday that he was one of the two men who evaded capture, but authorities did not confirm it.

POLICE OPERATION

Meanwhile at Molenbeek, the question on everyone's lips was "have they got him?"

As the rumour morphed into news headlines, people gathered near the scene of the police operation to see what was happening, AFP reported.

Mr Ahmed el Khannouss, a local councillor, told a French television station: "We're surprised. We thought he had left Belgium, was living somewhere far away."

For another resident, identified only as Mr Ahmed, 28, "it is not surprising that he should hide out here".

He said: "He grew up here. And even if the area was clearly under constant surveillance, it was surely the best place to hole out. He knew the area and he must have had friends too."

Mr Ahmed el Khannouss said the arrest "is a relief after four months of tension and anxiety".

"The investigation is going to have to show who, how and why he could keep ahead of the police for four months. He must have had help."

CAPTURE: Police at the scene of a security operation in Brussels suburb Molenbeek. It saw the world’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam (top), caught after his string of lucky escapes. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

 

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