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Fight against terrorism/arrest of Salah Abdeslam

Published on March 23, 2016
Statements by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his joint press conference with the Belgian Prime Minister

Brussels, March 18, 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, has just confirmed that Salah Abdeslam has been arrested with two accomplices and formally identified.

My thoughts go to the victims of the 13 November attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, because Salah Abdeslam is directly linked to the preparation, the organization and, sadly, the perpetration of those attacks. I’m also thinking of the families who were waiting for this arrest, as well as the arrests of all those who, directly or indirectly, took part in those appalling attacks.

I want to thank the Belgian Prime Minister and government for the action which has already been under way for several weeks, commend in particular the intervention of the special units, the role of the intelligence services, and finally say it was under the authority of the justice system that it was possible to take those actions.

Since the attacks, but even before the attacks, there has always been intense cooperation between France and Belgium. Once again, it’s proven its effectiveness, even though it’s taken a long time and isn’t yet over. We must continue to act. The cooperation is between the intelligence services, it’s also between police units, and I remind you that French police were present during the arrests in Forest, and we’ll be keen to continue and even extend this cooperation.

The cooperation is also judicial. A European Arrest Warrant had been issued for Salah Abdeslam and I have no doubt that the judicial authorities will very quickly issue an extradition request, and I know – because this isn’t the first time we’ve had to carry out this procedure – that the Belgian authorities will respond to it as favourably and as swiftly as possible, and here I want to thank the Belgian Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor for that.

We’re also aware that while the arrest is an important step, it’s not the definitive conclusion, either, because there have already been arrests and there will have to be others, because we know the network was very extensive in Belgium, France and other European countries. And so until we’ve arrested and, in the interests of public safety, locked up all those who may have participated in, contributed to, financed or maintained the terrorist ring that committed the appalling attacks, the acts of war of 13 November, our battle won’t be over.

From tomorrow morning, in view of the information I’ve been given, I’ll be convening a meeting of the Defence Council. The ministers in charge of our country’s security, and the services’ directors, will meet, because we have to continue and ensure the dismantling of this network, but also others, because we know very well that there are links, links which always lead us to Syria – where the terrorist group Daesh [so-called ISIL] instigated the organization, planning and financing of these attacks – and that it was Syria where a number of these protagonists left from.

We also have to fight this battle at European level, and it’s a coincidence – which history often produces – that at the very moment we were meeting in the European Council we learned of the possible arrest – it wasn’t confirmed – of Salah Abdeslam, and so this battle must be fought at European level and all the measures adopted by Europe must be very swiftly implemented.

I’m particularly thinking of the air passenger database and of the fight against arms trafficking, because we’re clearly seeing that these terrorists are always armed and have a formidable arsenal.

I’ll end by saying that it’s very important for us to have confirmation this evening that there will indeed be arrests enabling us to find out the whole truth and that justice can be done – the justice of the French Republic, since it’s the Republic which is responsible for it, but I’d also say justice for men and women who want to live freely./.

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