It turns out Salah Abdeslam was sitting right under everyone’s noses all along.
Abdeslam, the most wanted suspect in the November Paris attacks, was arrested Friday in Molenbeek, an area of Brussels. The neighborhood is notorious as the cradle of Belgian jihadism. Details on the operation are still sparse—it involved several shots fired, grenades, smoke, and police helicopters. Abdeslam was shot but captured alive, a major coup for police.
As Rukmini Callimachi notes, Abdeslam is the only member of the 10-person team that conducted the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, who is still alive. He reportedly handled logistics for the operation. But who is he, and how did he become Europe’s most wanted man? Unlike Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind who was killed in France shortly after the attacks, Abdeslam did not have a long history of jihadism, and had not traveled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS.
But Abdeslam was reportedly a childhood friend of Abaaoud. Both were the children of Moroccan immigrants living in Molenbeek. Abdeslam was two years younger, and though born in Belgium, he was a French national. By all accounts, Abdeslam led a fairly normal childhood. (The conventions of post-attack journalism require that acquaintances describe him as seeming normal.) He was into soccer, motorcycles, and videogames. Like many of the other young Belgian men who have been implicated in terrorist attacks, he was involved in various petty crimes and violations of Islamic precepts, and seemed to have little interest in religion right up to the point of this radicalization.