BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in November’s Paris attacks, will no longer fight extradition to France as he had vowed to do but instead now wants to return to “explain himself”, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Abdeslam, a French citizen, was arrested in Brussels on March 18 after a four-month manhunt in the wake of the Nov. 13 shooting and suicide bombing rampage by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people in Paris.
His lawyer, Sven Mary, told reporters in Brussels that he hoped Abdeslam’s return to Paris could happen “as soon as possible … Regarding going to France, I think it’s really a question of weeks”.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins had said last week that at worst it could take three months for Abdeslam to be handed over to France after the suspect said he would oppose extradition.
Investigations into suicide bombings in Brussels on Tuesday – also claimed by Islamic State and in which at least 31 people died – have pointed in Abdeslam’s direction as well, indicating that the same jihadist network was involved in both the Paris and Brussels attacks, police said.
Mary said Abdeslam was due in court in Brussels on March 31 to face a European arrest warrant issued by France. This warrant is a procedure reserved for European Union member states that speeds up the traditional extradition process by preventing government authorities from blocking any transfer.
Asked whether Abdeslam, born and raised in Brussels, was still helping police investigators, Mary declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.
Mary had said on Monday that Abdeslam was collaborating and communicating, and that he was “worth his weight in gold” for the investigation.
As the only suspected participant or planner of the Paris attacks in police custody, Abdeslam would be a possible significant source of information on others involved in support networks, financing and links with Islamic State in Syria, investigators have said.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Andrew Callus and Mark Heinrich)
Photo: Belgian troops wait in the back of their army truck in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann