Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam spends first night in jail

Salah Abdeslam told interrogators he had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium in Paris last November but had backed out at the last minute.

A special forces officer stands guard as a  police convoy and ambulance thought to be carrying captured fugitive Salah Abdeslam arrives at the federal penitentiary in Bruges, Belgium, on March 19, 2016. Salah Abdeslam has been charged with “terrorist murder”  by Belgian authorities and his lawyer vowed to fight any attempt to extradite him to France to stand trial for the slaughter of 130 people. Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AP Photo
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Bruges, Belgium // The lawyer of top Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam launched a furious legal fight on Sunday to avoid extradition after Europe’s most wanted fugitive spent his first night in a Belgian prison.

Abdeslam is held in a high security jail on charges of “terrorist murder” for his role in the November 13 gun and suicide attacks on the French capital, which killed 130 people. He was caught unarmed after being shot in the leg during a Friday police raid in Brussels.

The Belgian-born French citizen told interrogators he had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France stadium in Paris but had backed out at the last minute.

A day after his capture, the 26-year-old was taken to a maximum security prison in the northwestern city of Bruges where police are eager to question the man who is the only survivor of the 10-man commando believed to have carried out the attacks.

His lawyer Sven Mary said Abdeslam would fight his extradition to Paris beginning with a legal complaint against a French prosecutor who divulged the details of the first interrogation with the suspect to journalists on Saturday.

"I don't understand why a prosecutor in Paris has to communicate at this stage on an investigation in Belgium," Mr Mary told Le Soir newspaper on Sunday.

Abdeslam “is worth gold”, he said. “He is collaborating, he’s communicating, he is not using his right to remain silent,” Mr Mary said, urging patience.

Paris prosector Francois Molins on Saturday said Abdeslam had played a “central role” in planning the November attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall and were claimed by ISIL.

His brother Brahim blew himself up in a restaurant in the east of the French capital, and Mr Molins said Abdeslam had planned to do the same at the Stade de France before changing his mind.

Investigators believe Abdeslam rented rooms in the Paris area to be used by the attackers and a car, which he used to drive them to the Stade de France before heading to the 18th arrondissement in the north of the capital.

Days after the attacks, an explosives-filled suicide vest was found in Paris in an area where mobile phone signals indicated Abdeslam had been.

French president Francois Hollande said shortly after his arrest on Friday that he wanted to see Abdeslam transferred to France as quickly as possible to face prosecution.

French justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said on Saturday that Belgium will hand over Abdeslam to France in no more than three months.

Abdeslam is behind bars in solitary confinement at the Bruges high-security prison. The prison’s “individual and special safety” wing which was built in 2008 for people who pose an escape risk or for those with particular behavioural problems, a spokeswoman said.

He is being held there alongside Mehdi Nemmouche, who carried out a fatal attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014.

Police have also detained a suspected accomplice of his, Mounir Ahmed Alaaj, also known as Amine Choukri, on the same terrorism charges, but at a prison near Liege in Eastern Belgium.

Two more suspects are wanted in connection with the killings – Mohamed Abrini, who became friends with Abdeslam when they were teenagers, and another fugitive known only by a name used on false papers, Soufiane Kayal.

* Agence France-Presse