The most wanted man in Europe chose the place he felt most comfortable, the place he knew best.
In hiding after allegedly helping to carry out the atrocious terror attacks in Paris on November 13 that claimed 130 lives, it’s now clear Salah Abdeslam chose not to flee into the maze of Syria.
Rather, he just went back to his old neighbourhood in Brussels – the immigrant quarter of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek.
It was there Abdeslam was arrested – along with four others – during a police raid on Friday night, bringing to an end his four-month flight from the law.
It was reported he’d been hiding in an apartment owned by a friend’s mother.
Abdeslam is thought to be the only one of eight people who carried out the Paris terror attacks still alive, and his capture will hopefully provide authorities with vital information on how the attack was orchestrated, and what might be coming next.
The 26-year-old’s face has been beamed out by news stations in every country in Europe for the past four months, but somehow he managed to evade capture until now.
Friday’s arrest was so momentous US President Barack Obama phoned Belgian leader Charles Michel to congratulate him on the capture.
There were reports Abdeslam was supposed to blow himself up in Paris on November 13, as one of his brothers did, but lost his nerve.
French president Francois Hollande has said his country will seek to extradite Abdeslam.
The impending interrogation
Hollande said it was now clear the scope of the attacks went far beyond the eight individuals who carried them out.
Still alive, Abdeslam could prove to be a vital source of information for terror authorities increasingly baffled by the scope, organisational structure and resources of Islamic State.
Interrogators will be after his contacts, throughout Europe and the Middle East, support networks and financial backers.
Hiding in his old ‘hood
The fact Abdeslam was found in an area that had been searched numerous times suggested he was aided by locals.
It has been reported that three of the people arrested in Friday’s operation were from the same family – a family alleged to have been shielding Abdeslam from law enforcement.
As well as Abdeslam and the three family members, another person suspected of involvement in the attacks was arrested.
Unfortunately, due to recent events the relatively poor borough of Molenbeek – home to around 100,000 people – is gaining a reputation as a base for radicals and terrorists.
Ahmed El Khannouss, the borough’s deputy mayor, urged people not to stigmatise its largely peaceful, culturally diverse population.
“I know everyone thinks it’s a base for radicals and terrorists, but a lot of that is stigmatisation,” he told The Guardian in late 2015.
“It’s extremely dangerous to link these radicals with the local population.”
The dramatic arrest
On Friday afternoon, gunfire rang out in the borough – the scene of past raids in relation to the Paris attacks – with a heavy police presence surrounding an apartment block around 4pm.
Abdeslam – the son of Morrocan immigrants who was born and raised in Brussels – was “slightly injured,” according to Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s spokesman Thierry Werts.
Abdeslam was taken to the hospital to get treatment for an injury to his leg.
The broadcaster RTBF reported that Abdeslam was taken to the Saint-Pierre hospital, in the south of the Belgian capital, but has since been released.
Television footage showed armed security forces dragging a man with a sack on his head out of a building and into a car.
Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel described the capture of the 26-year-old French suspect and two others as “a very important result in the battle for democracy”.
As well as the 130 fatalities, 368 people were injured in the series of co-ordinated attacks on Paris last November.
It was the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II, and the deadliest terror attack on European soil since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 192 people.
– with AAP