Paris attacks: Brother urges suspect to surrender

November 23, 2015 11:36 am

The brother of the man wanted for the terror attacks has urged him to surrender.
Fugitive
suspected militant Salah Abdeslam, 26, fled back home to Brussels from
Paris shortly after the attacks, in which his elder brother Brahim blew
himself up at a cafe.
Their other brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, has appeared on Belgian broadcaster RTBF and appealed for Salah to turn himself in.
After
already losing one sibling in the attacks, Mohamed said he would rather
see his surviving brother “in prison than in a cemetery”.
Mohamed
said he noticed a change in his brothers’ behaviour about six months
ago, when they gave up alcohol and began going to the mosque
occasionally, but said there was no sign of radicalisation.
Mohamed
said he believes his brothers were manipulated. He hopes Salah had a
change of heart before the Paris attacks and wasn’t involved.

The interview aired as Belgium’s capital Brussels remains in
lockdown and authorities continue their hunt for suspected terrorists
including Salah Abdeslam.

Two brothers’ likely path to Paris

As
Mohamed Abdeslam tells it, his family, which lives on a quiet street of
three-story homes in the Molenbeek section of the Belgian capital, was
“an open family. We’ve never had problems with the law.”
They do
now. Mohamed’s 26-year-old brother is the target of one of the largest
manhunts in European history. His other brother blew himself up on the
Boulevard Voltaire in Paris on Friday, part of a terror rampage that
left 129 people dead.
After the attacks in Paris, the
second-generation Moroccan family has become the talk of Molenbeek, a
mostly Muslim neighborhood that has been called the “European capital of
jihad,” producing scores of fighters bent on attacking the West. At
least five of the Paris attackers had links to the district, located
just across the canal from the chic shops, offices and historic
buildings of central Brussels. The neighborhood has become symbolic of
the extremist risk faces from some of its own underemployed,
alienated citizens.




Only a few weeks before the attacks, Mohamed was working
for the local government. His brother Salah, 26, was unemployed, like
roughly 40 percent of the young people in Molenbeek. He spent time
hanging around the Cafe Les Beguines, run by the sibling who would
become the suicide bomber – Brahim, 31.
The red-brick,
coffee-and-beer corner tavern bore the name of a semi-monastic Christian
lay order that took vows of chastity in the Middle Ages. But the cafe
was anything but demure, according to locals.
Earlier this month,
police closed the cafe after neighbors complained about the powerful
scent of marijuana. A man in the neighborhood who was familiar with the
cafe, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was known as a
place to buy hashish and stolen cellphones.

Police detain a man in handcuffs after stopping and searching his car which had French number plates in Brussels. Photo / AP
Police detain a man in handcuffs after stopping and searching his car which had French number plates in Brussels. Photo / AP
The outlines of the Abdeslam family are still fuzzy, but
it’s clear that at least two of the brothers, like many other young men
in Molenbeek, previously ran afoul of the law in minor criminal cases.
They may have then fallen under the influence of recruiters who have
been working for years in Molenbeek to persuade frustrated,
underemployed young men to do something more with their lives and wage
violent jihad.
Petty crime is common in Molenbeek; the local metro stations are notorious scenes for snatch-and-grab thieves.
Brahim
was arrested in 2010 and charged with fencing stolen goods and
falsifying papers, according to Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesman for
Belgium’s federal prosecutor. The young man did not receive a sentence,
only “a slap on the wrist,” Van Der Sypt said. A year later, Brahim was
charged with minor traffic offenses.
His younger brother, Salah,
also ran into trouble with the law around that time. He had held a job
for two years at the Brussels Intermunicipal Transport Company. But in
February 2011, he was convicted of breaking and entering and spent a
month in preventive custody. He has been unemployed since.
One of
the people arrested with him for breaking and entering was his
childhood friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who a couple of years later started
slipping in and out of Syria. Now Abaaoud is thought to be the
architect or inspiration behind a number of terrorist attacks, perhaps
including those in Paris last week, according to French authorities.

Belgian Army soldiers and police patrol an otherwise busy shopping street in Brussels. Photo / AP
Belgian Army soldiers and police patrol an otherwise busy shopping street in Brussels. Photo / AP
Among those he persuaded to travel to Syria was Brahim, a fact the Abdeslams’ mother acknowledged Monday.
Other
Abdeslam family members said in interviews with local reporters that
they could see Brahim had been radicalized but that they never thought
he would participate in anything as vicious as the attacks in Paris.
The
family and friends were even more surprised about Salah. A friend of
Salah’s, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told a local Web
site that “if Salah could do this, then any of my mates could do this.”
Salah
was divorced, without children, his brother Mohamed told reporters. The
brother had not detected any signs of extremism, he said. “Salah is a
Muslim who prays, had in the last couple of months stopped smoking and
drinking, and goes to the mosque once in a while,” Mohamed told the
French channel BFMTV. “He dressed normally, didn’t show any signs of him
being radicalized. It is a frustration that our family lived together
without noticing what was going on.”
He added: “About my brother,
we don’t know where he is at the moment. We don’t know if, with the
tension that there is right now, he could give himself in or not. But
you should know that he was brought up here, he studied here, he is an
entirely normal boy.”

This alert was released by French police who are on the hunt for 26-year old Salah Abdeslam. Photo / AP
This alert was released by French police who are on the hunt for 26-year old Salah Abdeslam. Photo / AP
The brothers were not the only targets for law enforcement
in Molenbeek. On Tuesday, Belgian authorities charged two men from the
neighborhood with participation in terrorist attacks and participation
in the activities of a terrorist organization.
Hamza Attou, 21,
and Mohammed Amri, 27, were arrested during house raids in Brussels on
Saturday. Authorities suspect that the pair drove from Brussels to Paris
to assist fugitive Salah Abdeslam in his getaway.
The federal
prosecutor’s spokesman said authorities do not think that either Attou
or Amri has traveled to Syria; their previous arrests were limited to
traffic offenses.
The spokesman could not say whether these are
the same two men who were with Salah Abdeslam when their car was stopped
by police Saturday morning in an apparently routine check at a French
toll plaza. That vehicle was a rental car hired by Abdeslam, the
spokesman said.
Mohamed Abdeslam asked the public not to condemn
him along with his brothers. He said that he had held his job with the
local government for 10 years and that people who knew him there
realized he couldn’t do such things.
“I can understand it is
difficult to believe, after what has happened, this tragedy, more then
120 deaths, but you have to understand that our family is in shock, our
family is sad, not only for the decision of its child, but more even for
the fact that we haven’t been able to prevent it,” Mohamed said.

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