BRUGES, Brussels: Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam woke up behind bars Sunday after spending his first night in jail on charges of “terrorist murder” for his role in orchestrating the worst-ever terror asssault on French soil.
Abdeslam, who was caught after being shot in the leg during a Friday police raid in Brussels, told interrogators he had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium in Paris but had backed out at the last minute.
The 26-year-old spent four months as Europe’s most wanted man for his role in organizing the November 13 gun and suicide attacks on the French capital, which killed 130 people.
A day after he was caught, Abdeslam was charged with terrorist murder and participating in a terror group before being taken to a maximum security prison in the northwestern city of Bruges.
He is being held in the prison’s “individual and special safety” wing which was built in 2008 for people who pose an escape risk or for those with particular behavioral problems, a spokeswoman said.
Although he was cooperating with the authorities, he would fight against plans to transfer him to France, his lawyer Sven Mary said.
Police have also detained a suspected accomplice of his, Mounir Ahmed Alaaj, also known as Amine Choukri, on the same terrorism charges.
‘Many issues to explain’
Paris prosector Francois Molins said Abdeslam had played a “central role” in planning the November attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall and were claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).
His brother Brahim blew himself up in a restaurant in the east of the French capital, and Molins said Abdeslam had planned to do the same at the Stade de France before changing his mind.
“These first statements, which should be taken cautiously, leave a whole series of issues that Salah Abdeslam must explain,” Molins told a Paris news conference.
Investigators believe Abdeslam rented rooms in the Paris area to be used by the attackers and a car, which he used to drive them to the Stade de France before heading to the 18th arrondissement in the north of the capital.
Days after the attacks an explosives-filled suicide vest was found in Paris in an area where mobile phone signals indicated Abdeslam had been.
French President Francois Hollande said shortly after his arrest Friday that he wanted to see Abdeslam transferred to France as quickly as possible to face prosecution.
The French national was “directly linked to the preparation, the organization and, unfortunately, the perpetration of these attacks,” said Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit when the raid took place.
Mary said he is will fight the extradition, however, which legal experts said is likely to delay but not prevent his handover to the French authorities.
French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Saturday that Belgium will hand over Abdeslam to France in no more than three months.
Two suspects at large
Abdeslam’s arrest in the gritty Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels was hailed by European and US leaders, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it dealt a “major blow” to IS jihadists operating in Europe.
But the minister warned Saturday that the threat level remained “extremely high” and said France was deploying extra police officers to its borders to step up controls following discussions with Interpol.
Former small-time criminal Abdeslam is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-man jihadist team that carried out the Paris attacks.
Two more suspects are wanted in connection with the killings — Mohamed Abrini, who became friends with Abdeslam when they were teenagers, and another fugitive known only by a name used on false papers, Soufiane Kayal.
Prosecutors said special forces raided a house in Molenbeek on Friday because of evidence found in an operation elsewhere in Brussels on Tuesday, in which another Paris-linked suspect died in a gun battle.
Abdeslam’s fingerprints was found at the scene of the first raid.
Belgian press hailed his capture as restoring the country’s honor, tarnished by perceived intelligence and police blunders surrounding the attacks, which appear increasingly to have been planned and coordinated in Brussels.