Paris Fugitive Was Helped More by Community Networks Than by ISIS
The 13 November attacks killed 130 people in Paris and police believed ISIS operatives may have helped him escape.
After the Paris attacks, security forces searched far and wide for prime suspect, Salah Abdeslam – who vanished after returning to Brussels – believing ISIS could have spirited him away to Turkey, Syria or Morocco.
It appears Europe’s most wanted man never left the Belgian capital. And it was family, friends and petty criminals who helped him evade a manhunt for four months before he was arrested on Friday in the neighbourhood he grew up in, not far from his parents’ home.
As security services seek to understand how ISIS operates in Europe to prevent more attacks, Abdeslam’s case highlights the difficulty of tracking suspects who can rely on the protection of community networks, many of which do not involve religious radicals and are not on the police radar.
Abdeslam relied on a large network of friends and relatives that already existed for drug dealing and petty crime to keep him in hiding. This was about the solidarity of neighbours, families.Frederic Van Leeuw, Belgium’s federal prosecutor
Van Leeuw spoke to public broadcaster, RTBF, about Abdeslam’s ability to hide for so long despite 24,000 calls from the public to a Belgian police hotline seeking information about the suspected attackers.
Abdeslam may have been hidden in the basement of an apartment belonging to the mother of a friend with no links to militants, Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique reported on Sunday.
Such friendships, not ISIS operatives, proved crucial from the start for Abdeslam, who ran a bar in Molenbeek with his brother, which was a nexus of social life for young Arab men with little interest in the mosque but which was shut down shortly before the attacks for being a hub for drug dealing.
Abdeslam relied on two friends to drive him back to Brussels after his brother Brahim blew himself up at a Paris cafe. Others drove him around Molenbeek and its environs between safe houses.
Police, who were eventually able to move in to seize him at a house in the rundown North African neighbourhood of Molenbeek, have charged a man and a woman whom they suspect of being part of a family who harboured the fugitive.
While Abdeslam’s networks were not infallible – his call to an acquaintance for help looking for a new hiding place let police finally locate him – they were formidable.
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