According to the Belgian Justice Minister, police delayed their raid on the suspected Molenbeek hiding place of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam because of a ban on night-time raids. As a result the fugitive escaped.
It is believed the Brussels-born Paris attacks suspect played a key logistical role in last month’s terrorist atrocities that killed 130 people. Having played at least some of his part — his abandoned suicide bomb belt has since been recovered from a waste bin — it is understood he then drove back across the Franco-Belgian border just hours later in order to find a place to hide.
Speaking during a television interview on VTM’s Faroek programme, Justice Minister Koen Geens, said Belgian laws governing property searches were a “serious handicap” to the investigators tracking down the Paris attacks suspect.
On the evening of Sunday 15 November, two nights after the terror attacks, security services learned Mr. Abdeslam was hiding out at a an address in the notorious Molenbeek district of Brussels, reports Flanders News.
The problem they faced is that in Belgium no properties can be raided between the hours of 9pm and 5am, and by that time it was after 9pm. In fact the police did not raid the property until 10am on Monday 16 November, which newspapers have reported was because the street was busy.
Reports from reliable sources have told Belgian broadcasters that Mr. Abdeslam was able to escape that morning, either hidden in a car belonging to a person who was moving house on that street, or in a piece of furniture.
For their part, Belgian prosecutors have rejected the suggestions that the night-time ban definitely enabled the Paris attacks suspect’s escape. They admit there was intelligence which identified a specific home, and that when the home was eventually raided he was not there, but say that to blame the legal restriction is “an extrapolation”.
Mr. Geens has since initiated moves to reform the law which tied the hands of Belgian police, saying:
“In the [Faroek’ programme I was asked to comment on the question of whether raids should be allowed between 9pm and 5am. I only said that it would be better if that were the case, and that consequently I have put proposals to facilitate this in the case of terrorism cases to parliament and to the government. I have no further comment to make on the issue.”
As well as Belgium, France and several other European nations have restrictions on overnight police raids, intended to prevent the abuse of police powers of arrest.