Police in the Belgian town of
Mechelen knew the whereabouts of the prime suspect behind the Paris terror attacks, Salah Abdeslam, as far back as December — but failed to share the intelligence with Belgian authorities.
Flemish newspaper De Morgen first reported the news, which was later confirmed by Mechelen’s police chief, Yves Bogaerts, in a press conference.
“Unfortunately, a mistake has been made within my team,” he said, according to De Morgen. “A colleague with an excellent record of service forgot to pass on the information from [Abdeslam’s] file.”
Mechelen police apparently received a tip from Abdeslam’s nephew, Abid Aberkan, in November that Abdeslam may have been hiding in Mechelen, a town just north of Brussels. Mechelen police filed the report on Abdeslam’s whereabouts on December 7, three weeks after the fugitive is believed to have helped plan and carry out November’s Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
The information was evidently supposed to be transferred to the Antwerp prosecutor’s office and referred to the federal police. Abdeslam was captured in a raid by Belgian police three months later — time he likely spent planning Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, authorities have said.
The incident highlights the fragmented nature of Belgium’s security apparatus. In Brussels alone, the police force is divided between six police corps spread out over 19 boroughs.
Françoise Schepmans, the mayor of Molenbeek — the Brussels district known as a hotbed for jihadists where Abdeslam was finally arrested last week — told CNN that there is “no collaboration” between local and federal police in Belgium.
“They don’t have to talk to me about their investigation,” Schepmans said, referring to police from different districts.
At least 30 people were reported killed
and hundreds more wounded after explosions ripped through Zaventem Airport and a metro station in Brussels on Tuesday morning.
Belgian authorities have been criticised over reports that they interrogated Abdeslam for only one hour between the time he was captured last week and Tuesday’s terror attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station in the heart of Belgium’s government district.
Abdeslam’s lawyer has insisted that he was not aware of the plot. But prosecutors say they have linked Abdeslam to the attacks, noting that his fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment that had been rented out by one of the suspected Brussels bombers, Khalid El Bakraoui.
Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, and Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens both offered to resign after the attacks over the security lapses that may have allowed the attackers to plan and carry out their attacks undetected. Their resignations were refused by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
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