Paris attacks fugitive Abdeslam's fingerprints found in Brussels raid flat
BRUSSELS, Belgium (UPDATED) – Police found fingerprints of Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam in a Brussels apartment raided this week, officials said Friday, March 19, as authorities continued the hunt for two suspects who fled the scene.
Reports suggested Abdeslam could even be one of the two men who slipped through a massive police cordon Tuesday in the Forest quarter of Brussels after another suspect was shot dead.
Abdeslam, 26, is believed to have played a key role in the November 13 attacks claimed by the Islamic State group that left 130 people dead.
Investigations have shown that several of those involved in the assaults lived in Brussels, where the attacks were planned.
The Franco-Moroccan, whose older brother Brahim blew himself up in Paris, fled across the border to Belgium hours after the massacre and is now one of the most wanted men in Europe.
Belgium's RTBF television station, citing unidentified sources, said it was "more than likely" that Abdeslam was one of the two suspects who fled the Forest apartment but Belgian authorities refused comment on that issue.
"We can confirm that fingerprints of Salah Abdeslam were found in the apartment in Forest," spokesman for federal prosecutors Eric Van Der Sypt told AFP, without elaborating.
The firefight on Tuesday erupted after Belgian and French police searched the Forest property as part of continued investigations into the Paris attacks.
The officers went to the apartment believing it was rented under the same false identity as a hideout in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used by the Paris attackers.
Prosecutors also said that the man killed in the Forest shootout was very likely a suspect wanted by police in connection with the Paris attacks.
Investigations show that "the so-called Samir Bouzir, against whom a wanted notice was issued, most probably is the Algerian national Mohamed Belkaid" killed Tuesday, a statement said.
Investigators in December determined that a fake identity card in Bouzir's name was used to wire 750 euros ($800) from a Brussels Western Union office to the cousin of attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud four days after the massacre in the French capital.
Abbaaoud and his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen, as well as another Paris attacks suspect, died in a hail of bullets north of the French capital on November 18.
Meanwhile Belgian TV channel VRT said that Belkaid, who was living illegally in Belgium, was listed as a volunteer to commit a suicide bomb attack.
Contacted by AFP, Belgium's federal prosecutor declined to comment on the report.
Police found a Kalashnikov assault rifle, extremist Islamic literature and an ISIS flag near Belkaid after he was shot.
Asked whether one of the suspects who escaped the shootout was Abdeslam, a source close to the investigation said: "We can obviously ask ourselves the question."
Another Abdeslam fingerprint was found in December in a different Brussels apartment, where investigators believe the fugitive hid for three weeks immediately following the attacks.
Belgium has been at the centre of the investigation into the Paris attacks almost from day one.
The ringleader, ISIS member Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also from Brussels. He was killed in a raid in Paris shortly after the attacks.
Both had links to the largely immigrant Brussels district of Molenbeek which was targeted by authorities after the attacks.
Brahim Abdeslam, Salah's brother, was buried in a discreet ceremony on Thursday in Brussels.
Another of the Paris attackers, Bilal Hadfi, was buried quietly in the same cemetery in the northwest of the city last week. – Alex Pigman, AFP/Rappler.com