Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam handed over to French authorities
Lawyer says Abdeslam is 'falling apart' and ready to co-operate
Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam — Europe's most wanted fugitive until his capture last month — was transferred to France on Wednesday morning and was to go before investigating judges for eventual charges, the French prosecutor's office said.
Abdeslam, who was arrested in Belgium last month after four months on the run, was wanted in France for his role in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 victims. He is considered to have been instrumental in the logistics for the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The quick transfer of Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, surprised even his lawyer in France who rushed from Lille to join his client at the Justice Palace. Frank Berton described Abdeslam as a young man "falling apart" and ready to co-operate.
French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be placed in isolation in a prison in the Paris region, watched by guards specially adapted "for people reputed to be dangerous." He did not name the prison where Abdeslam would be housed.
Abdeslam was the only survivor of the attacks and his testimony would likely prove significant to definitively linking events of the night of carnage when three teams of attackers blew themselves up or sprayed gunfire at Paris nightclubs, a noted music hall and the sports stadium outside Paris.
He was Europe's most wanted fugitive until his capture four days before the March 22 Brussels bombings — at the airport and a metro station — that killed 32 people.
The transfer of the suspected extremist was carried out without advance notice and in secrecy. Abdeslam had been held in a high-security cell at a jail in Beveren near Antwerp.
'He has things to say'
Berton had met Abdeslam in the Belgian prison and told the iTele TV channel that his client wants to talk, telling him "he has things to say, that he wants to explain his route to radicalization" as well as his role in the attacks — but not take responsibility for others.
"That means be judged for facts and acts that he committed but not for what he did not commit simply because he is the only survivor of the attacks," Berton said.
Abdeslam, whose brother blew himself up in the attacks, is charged with attempted murder over a March 15 shootout with police in Brussels. He was arrested three days later.
Belgian police questioned Abdeslam about potential links to the three suicide bombers in the Brussels bombings — just days after Abdeslam's arrest.
Mystery continues to hang over Abdeslam's role in the Paris attacks. He returned from France to Belgium after his brother blew himself up, calling cohorts in Brussels to fetch him. However, a suicide belt bearing his fingerprints was found south of Paris and a car he had been driving was found in a northern Paris district.
Berton, who has taken on tough cases in the past, said in the iTele interview that Abdeslam "has the right to be defended."
"We're in a democracy ... we're not in a totalitarian state."