BRUSSELS (AP) — Fugitive Salah Abdeslam may have eluded capture two days after the Paris attacks when Belgian police waited overnight to search a Brussels house where he could have been hiding, a Belgian federal prosecutor said Thursday.
“Did he escape? Did he not escape? Nobody knows,” prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said.
Van der Sypt said police had waited until 10 a.m. on Nov. 16 to move on the house in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels because of various factors, including a Belgian law banning home searches between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. except for certain crimes.
Authorities also wanted to be certain no harm would come to the 200 to 300 worshippers who attend early morning prayers at a nearby mosque, as well as children on their way to school, the prosecutor said.
Some Belgian media reported that Abdeslam, 26, brother of one of the suicide bombers who blew themselves during the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130, was smuggled out of the house in Molenbeek’s Delaunoy Street under the noses of the police, perhaps under cover of a simulated household move. But Van der Sypt said that hasn’t been proven.
“All we know is that when we came, he wasn’t there,” the Belgian prosecutor said. “Although we had reasons to believe that he was there, it was never confirmed — we have never had 100 percent certainty that he was there. It was just a possibility.”
An accomplice suspected of transporting Abdeslam in a white van was arrested by police in Brussels later the same day, said Van der Sypt, but he said it was unclear where the fugitive had been picked up. Abdeslam is currently the subject of an international manhunt.