Abdeslam arrest a 'major blow' to Islamic State in Europe: French minister

Published: March 19, 2016


PARIS: The arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the last major suspect wanted in connection with the November extremist attacks in Paris, has dealt a “major blow” to the Islamic State group in Europe, a French minister said Saturday.

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“The operations of the past week have enabled us to incapacitate several individuals who are clearly extremely dangerous and totally determined,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

“We will win the war against terrorism by acting without truce or let-up,” he said.

Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man who was captured in Brussels’ gritty Molenbeek neighbourhood on Friday, allegedly helped plan the November 13 attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State in which 130 people were killed.

Cazeneuve was speaking after President Francois Hollande led a “defence council” with key cabinet ministers and security officials to follow up on Abdeslam’s arrest.

He praised the Belgian authorities for their “flawless” commitment to capturing Abdeslam as well as the “good cooperation” between France and Belgium in the operation.

A French judge placed Abdeslam under a European arrest warrant on November 24, which will facilitate his transfer to France.

Abdeslam, a former small-time criminal, is believed to be the last surviving member of the 10-man extremist team that carried out the attacks on Paris’s Bataclan concert hall as well as restaurants, bars and the Stade de France stadium.

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The ringleader of the attacks, Islamic State member Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and attacker Bilal Hadfi, both dead, also had links to Molenbeek, which has been seen as a hotbed of Islamist radicalism for decades.

In the wider campaign against terrorism, Cazeneuve noted that since the start of the year, 74 people “with ties to terrorist activities have been arrested (in France), of whom 37 have been charged and 28 are in custody”.

“In the face of a threat level that remains extremely high, (these results) are encouragement to pursue our efforts nonstop,” he said.

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