Paris Attacks Mastermind Extradited to France | Courthouse News Service
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Paris Attacks Mastermind Extradited to France

PARIS (AP) — Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam — Europe's most wanted fugitive until his capture in Belgium last month — was returned to France on Wednesday to face justice and is willing to cooperate, his lawyer said.

Abdeslam appeared before investigating judges in Paris who will decide how to charge him.

After four months on the run, the 26-year-old French citizen of Moroccan origin was arrested in March in the Brussels neighborhood where he was raised. Investigators have said he was instrumental in coordinating logistics for the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people at Paris restaurants, a noted music hall and a sports stadium outside the city. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the carnage.

The quick, secret transfer surprised even Abdeslam's lawyer in France, who rushed from Lille to join his client at the Palace of Justice, arriving in the early afternoon.

Frank Berton, who announced earlier Wednesday that he would represent Abdeslam, described his client as a young man who is "falling apart" and is ready to cooperate.

"He has things to say," he told iTele TV. "He wants to explain his route to radicalization."

However, he said his client doesn't want to take responsibility for others.

"That means be judged for facts and acts that he committed but not for what he did not commit simply because he is the only survivor of the attacks," Berton said.

The attacks were carried out by three teams of assailants who blew themselves up or sprayed gunfire and Abdeslam's testimony will likely prove significant to definitively linking the events that night. His brother was one of the suicide bombers.

Abdeslam's appearance Wednesday before an anti-terrorism investigative judge could, in theory, last for hours. However, his lawyer, indicated in comments to The Associated Press during a break that the proceedings would be swift.

Abdeslam will be charged at the close of the session and sent to the judge for Liberties and Detention who will decide whether to jail him as prosecutors have asked.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be placed in isolation in a prison in the Paris region, watched by guards specially trained to deal with "people reputed to be dangerous." He didn't name the prison.

Georges Salines, whose daughter Lola died at the Bataclan music hall, said Abdeslam's arrival in Paris had enormous significance for victims of the attacks.

"Up to this point, he is the key actor of the Nov. 13 attacks to be behind bars," he told BFM television. "I would like to look him in the eye. If I could even talk to him, it would be important to me."

Abdeslam's precise role in the attacks remains a mystery. He returned from France to Belgium afterward, calling cohorts in Brussels to fetch him. However, a suicide belt bearing his fingerprints was found south of Paris and a car he had been driving was found in a northern Paris district, prosecutors said.

He was captured just four days before the March 22 bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station that killed 32 people. The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for those attacks.

Brussels, and in particular the Molenbeek neighborhood, was home to many of the attackers who struck Paris. It was Abdeslam's childhood neighborhood and he was finally caught not far from the home where he grew up.

Speculation about Abdeslam's role and place in the hierarchy of the attackers has been rampant. It had been widely suspected that Abdeslam pulled out of his own role as an attacker, something Paris prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed at a news conference, saying he had wanted to blow himself up at the sports stadium but backed down.

In a surprise assessment, the suspect's Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, dismissed Abdeslam as a "little jerk among Molenbeek's little delinquents, more a follower than a leader."

"He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray," Mary was quoted as saying in a profile published Wednesday by the French daily Liberation that focused on the lawyer's career.

Mary later cautioned against exaggerating Abdeslam's role.

He "is someone who suddenly became the organizer ... He has neither the wherewithal nor the intelligence. That's what I wanted to say by empty ashtray," the Belgian lawyer said.

Abdeslam is charged with attempted murder over a March 15 shootout with police in Brussels. He was arrested three days later and police in Belgium have questioned him about any potential links to the suicide bombers in the Brussels attacks.

Geraldine Berger-Stenger, a lawyer for several of the French victims, warned against pinning too much hope on any revelations from Abdeslam.

"I expect he will cooperate but I am very cautious," she told BFM. Abdeslam is a key witness "but we are perhaps hoping for too much."

Former chief terror magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere said that while Abdeslam's arrival in France is important, the investigation is far from over.

"What is important is not just his declarations," Bruguiere said on iTele, "but to be confronted with concrete elements of the probe, a very thick file."

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