The Islamic State militant Salah Abdeslam, one of the masterminds behind the Friday-the-Thirteenth Paris massacre that killed 130 people last November, was extradited from Belgium to France early Wednesday morning.
Nicknamed “the beast of Bataclan,” Abdeslam became Europe’s most wanted man after driving several of the Islamic State terrorists to their targets around Paris: restaurants, bars, the national sports stadium and deadliest of all, the Bataclan concert hall where 90 of the 130 victims were slaughtered.
He spent four months on the run, with some believing he had fled far from his home in the Molenbeeck district of Brussels until Belgian police shot and arrested him in a raid there last March 18.
Molenbeek already had a reputation for Islamic extremism, with its large North African Muslim immigrant community, but after investigations into the Paris attacks revealed that the neighborhood had served as headquarters for the jihadists made it a notorious household word around the globe.
Shortly after Abdeslam’s arrest, Paris requested extradition to be able to try the terrorist, and Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders, gave his assurances from the very first hours of detention that Belgium “will make sure to respond as favorably as possible” to France’s request for the extradition of Abdeslam.
Reynders had intimated that the extradition could take place “in the coming weeks.”
Before dawn on Wednesday Abdeslam was taken to France aboard a French military helicopter, escorted by special units of France’s elite law enforcement Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN).
Abdeslam’s new French lawyer, Frank Berton, said that his client “wants to testify as soon as possible before the French courts.”
Berton, along with the Belgian attorney Sven Mary, met with Abdeslam for more than two hours last Friday, at the Beveren prison near Antwerp where he had been incarcerated until his transfer to France.
“I met a young man who had been shot, who showed a willingness to explain both his course of radicalization and the facts themselves regarding November 13 and the days leading up to and following it,” said Berton.
“What matters is that he has the right to a fair trial, and that he be condemned for the things he has done, but not for things he didn’t do,” Berton said.
The 26-year-old Abdeslam has been indicted for terrorist murder and participation in a terrorist group and will be tried in France.
According to French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas, he will be held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in the Paris area until his trial.
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