PARIS (Reuters) - Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was placed under formal investigation on terrorism and murder charges in France on Wednesday after his extradition from Belgium, and he promised to talk to judges during his next hearing, his French lawyer said.
A Belgium-born Frenchman, Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor among a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on Nov. 13.
“The investigation will determine to what degree he was involved in the acts ... for which he has been put under investigation,” lawyer Frank Berton said after an initial hour-long hearing.
“He stayed silent today but said he would talk at a later stage,” Berton said, adding that the next hearing was set for May 20. Abdeslam did not speak on Wednesday because he was tired after a “quite rough” extradition, Berton said.
Abdeslam was placed under investigation on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, murder, kidnapping and holding weapons and explosives, the public prosecutor said in a statement. The kidnap charges relate to the hours-long attack on the Bataclan concert hall in which 90 people were killed.
Abdeslam, 26, was Europe’s most wanted fugitive until his capture in Brussels on March 18 after a four-month manhunt. He was taken by helicopter to Paris under armed guard and then driven to the capital’s main law courts.
French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison in the Paris region, with his cell under CCTV surveillance.
Four days after Abdeslam’s capture, other Islamist militants blew themselves up at Brussels international airport and on a metro train, killing 32 people.
Investigators have said Abdeslam told them he arranged logistics for the multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Paris and had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium before backing out at the last minute.
He is suspected of having rented two cars used to transport the attackers to, and around, the French capital.
Abdeslam’s elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack on one of several Paris cafes targeted by a group of assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests.
Salah Abdeslam’s confession to investigators suggested he may have been the 10th man referred to in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the multi-pronged attack on the stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall.
Police found an abandoned suicide vest in a rubbish bin in a Paris suburb following the attacks, stirring speculation that it might have belonged to Abdeslam, who escaped by car back to Belgium a few hours later.
Belgian police have arrested a number of his associates, including Mohamed Abrini, who was wanted in connection with both the Paris and Brussels attacks.
Sven Mary, Abdeslam’s main defense lawyer in Belgium, distanced himself from his client, telling France’s Liberation newspaper: “He’s a little jerk from Molenbeek, from a world of petty criminals - more of a follower than a leader, with the brains of an empty ash-tray.”
Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander and Gerard Bon in Paris, Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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