Accused terrorist Salah Abdeslam held wide-ranging and open conversations with his fellow prisoners while he was detained in Bruges prison following his arrest in Brussels in March 2016, according to secret recordings made by Belgian state security.
Abdeslam was arrested in connection with the attacks in Paris in November 2015. After exchanging gunfire with police in Forest commune in Brussels, he was arrested, and many think his arrest was a signal for his confederates in Brussels to carry out the attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro four days later.
Since his arrest, Abdeslam, who is now in prison awaiting trial in Paris, has been silent in the face of interrogators, but the Sureté tapes reveal he was not always so reticent. While detained in Bruges prison his conversations with fellow prisoners were recorded without his knowledge.
Among other comments, he reveals that he had to get rid of the explosive belt he was wearing because it was attracting the attention of passers-by after he had dropped three suicide bombers off at the Stade de Paris stadium, where they later blew themselves up, along with one member of the public.
“He was looking at my jacket. He could see there was something strange,” Abdeslam says. “It was too visible. I knew I had to get rid of it.”
He then tells how he hid in an apartment block in Châtillon, joining some young people on the stairs where they were following the news. “I hid in a building of social houses,” he said. “Next to the MacDonald’s, you see? I had the Fish menu.” He later fell asleep on the stairs in the building, before making his way back to Belgium the following day.
In another recording, he describes how he left his sleeping place, reunited with two friends and returned by car to Brussels. On the way, he says, the car was stopped at a road block at the Belgian border, where they were filmed by a Belgian TV crew.
“She [the reporter] asked me: ‘Do you think it’s normal to have a road block here?’ I told her ‘Yes, it’s normal, in the circumstances. We have to reinforce our borders, right?’ I was in the back of the car.”
Finally, the paper reveals, he talks to none other than Mehdi Nemmouche, then accused, now convicted of the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in May 2014 in which four people died. As he was arrested in Brussels, TV cameras were present, and viewers saw had speculated as to the piece of paper which appeared to fall from his pocket as he was dragged away. Nemmouche asked about the paper. Abdeslam pointed out that there was nothing to link it with him, but that it was a paper on which he had sworn an oath to uphold the so-called caliphate on Islamic State – a territory covering the Middle East and Europe which the organisation was claiming for its own radical brand of Islam.
The tapes, which will have been made on the authority of an order from a magistrate, will doubtless have been of value to investigators in both cases, in Brussels and in Paris. Whether their contents will be used in the upcoming trial of Abdeslam in France is another matter, however.