Europe

Paris attacks: Belgian 'delay' let Abdeslam go

Images of Salah Abdeslam Image copyright Belgian/French police
Image caption Salah Abdeslam was eventually arrested in a dramatic raid in Brussels in March

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was allowed to leave France because Belgium did not tell police in time that he was involved in jihadist circles, a senior French MP has said.

The suspect was stopped on the border after the November attacks but let go.

Sebastien Pietrasanta, who is leading a French parliamentary inquiry into the attack, said Belgium had provided limited details on an EU crime file.

It was not until 18 March that Salah Abdeslam was caught.

He was originally stopped on the French border with Belgium on 14 November, a day after the attacks.

He was in a car with two other men and held for 30 minutes, because his name was on a Schengen Information System (SIS II) file, which allows countries in the passport-free area to issue alerts on criminal suspects.

However, the file only held information about Salah Abdeslam's criminal past and not his links to militant Islam.

"While Salah Abdeslam was known by Belgian authorities to belong to the jihad movement, for what reason did this information not appear in the file?" Mr Pietrasanta told AFP news agency ahead of his full report on the case on Tuesday.

That information was eventually passed on, more than an hour after he was allowed to cross the border.

Last week, Hamza Attouh, one of two men accused of helping Salah Abdeslam escape to Belgium, was extradited to France to face preliminary charges of helping a criminal linked to an act of terrorism.

A second man, Mohammed Amri, faces similar charges in Belgium.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Salah Abdeslam is now being held in a four-cell complex at Fleury-Merogis jail south of Paris

Belgian officials have already indicated that they were close to arresting Salah Abdeslam at a house in the Brussels area of Molenbeek in the early hours of 16 November, but had to wait until after 05:00 to comply with law banning overnight police searches.

It was not for another four months that he was caught, four days before bomb attacks on Brussels airport and the Brussels metro in which 32 people died.

Reality TV shows

Salah Abdeslam was extradited to France in April. He is seen as the only surviving member of the jihadist group that attacked Paris, killing 130 people. However, he is known to have had links to several of the Brussels attackers.

French journalists have revealed details about his living conditions at the cramped Fleury-Merogis jail, Europe's biggest prison south of Paris.

According to Journal de Dimanche, he has access to his own "special sports hall" complete with rowing machine, in a four-cell area of the prison's high-security D3 wing.

Thierry Solere, an MP who visited the jail with the journalists, said Salah Abdeslam cooked a lot and watched hours of reality TV programmes.

"He barely watches the Euros. Actually, his thing is reality TV. He watches programmes for hours on end," he said.

Among the 4,521 prisoners held at Fleury-Merogis are several England football fans accused of involvement in violence during the European football championship. Officials say it is running at 195% capacity.

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