Prosecutor: Fugitive from Paris attacks arrested in Brussels shootout

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Paris Terror Suspect Captured: Belgian Media

UPDATE:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's federal prosecutor said a total of five people were arrested on Friday in a four-hour police operation, including the most wanted-fugitive following the Paris Islamist attacks in November.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said in addition to Salah Abdeslam and another suspect linked to the Paris attacks, they were holding three other people, all of whom were members of the family that had sheltered Abdeslam.

EARLIER COVERAGE:

The most-wanted fugitive from November's Paris attacks was arrested after a shootout with police in Brussels on Friday, Belgium's prime minister said.

Charles Michel described the capture of 26-year-old French suspect Salah Abdeslam and two others as "a very important result in the battle for democracy." French President Francois Hollande said he was confident they had links to Syria and to Islamic State which claimed the attacks that killed 130 people.

"The threat level is very high," said Hollande, who was in Brussels for an EU summit. He added that it was now clear many more people had been involved in the Paris attacks on a sports stadium, bars and cafes and concert hall than had been realized.

More from the scene:

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Brussels police raid, Paris attacker
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Prosecutor: Fugitive from Paris attacks arrested in Brussels shootout
Forensic police investigate outside the building where was carried out a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / DIRK WAEM / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic police investigate outside the building where was carried out a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / DIRK WAEM / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic police investigate outside the building where was carried out a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / DIRK WAEM / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows damage on the building where was carried out a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / DIRK WAEM / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers guard a road after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers guard a road after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers guard a road after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers patrol after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers guard a road after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
An ambulance passes next to a police officer with a dog during a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / DIRK WAEM / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images)
SINT-JANS-MOLENBEEK, BELGIUM - MARCH 18: Police officers guard a road after raids in which several people, including Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, were arrested on March 18, 2016 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium. Belgian police arrested three people in raids including key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam according to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
A Belgian policeman stands guard in a street during a police action in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016. A police operation was underway on March 18, in the Brussels area home to key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam whose fingerprints were found in an apartment raided this week, the federal prosecutor's office said. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS / AFP / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Police stand guard near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / AURORE BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman climbs into a police truck near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / AURORE BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Police stand guard near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / AURORE BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman stands guard near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / AURORE BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Police speaks together near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / AURORE BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
In this framegrab taken from VTM, armed police officers escort a suspect to a police vehicle during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. After an intense four-month manhunt across Europe and beyond, police on Friday captured Salah Abdeslam, the top fugitive in the Paris attacks in the same Brussels neighborhood where he grew up. (VTM via AP) BELGIUM OUT
Police officers with dogs during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. After an intense four-month manhunt across Europe and beyond, police on Friday captured Salah Abdeslam, the top fugitive in the Paris attacks in the same Brussels neighborhood where he grew up. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Police evacuate a woman and a small child during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. Two French police officials have told The Associated Press that Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive from Islamic extremist attacks in Paris in November, has been arrested in Belgium's capital after four months at large. He was arrested Friday in a major police operation in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. (AP Photo/Geoffrey Van der Hasselt)
A policeman stands guards near the scene of a police operation in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016, as part of the investigation into the Paris November attacks. The main suspect in the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in a raid in Brussels on March 18, French police sources said. / AFP / BELGA / Aurore BELOT / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read AURORE BELOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Special operations police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. Two French police officials have told The Associated Press that Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive from Islamic extremist attacks in Paris in November, has been arrested in Belgium's capital after four months at large. He was arrested Friday in a major police operation in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. (AP Photo/Geoffrey Van der Hasselt)
Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Police officers guard an entrance of a school during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Emergency vehicles travel along a street blocked by armed police officers during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (Aaron Hamerlynck via AP)
A street is blocked by armed police officers during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (Aaron Hamerlynck via AP)
This framegrab taken from APTN shows an armed police officer during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (APTN via AP)
Belgian policemen stand guard in a road during a police action in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district in Brussels, on March 18, 2016. A police operation was underway on March 18, in the Brussels area home to key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam whose fingerprints were found in an apartment raided this week, the federal prosecutor's office said. / AFP / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
This framegrab taken from APTN shows armed police officers during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (APTN via AP)
This framegrab taken from APTN shows an emergency vehicle during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (APTN via AP)
A police officer guides two women away during a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, Friday March 18, 2016. Police have descended in force to search a residence in the Molenbeek, and Belgian media reported gunshots had been fired. RTBF French-language TV reported late Friday afternoon that two people had been wounded, and that one might be Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
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Michel said Abdeslam was wounded -- local media said he was shot in the leg -- in the operation launched as EU leaders met on the other side of the city to discuss Europe's migration crisis. U.S. President Barack Obama sent his congratulations.

Television footage showed armed security forces dragging a man with a sack on his head out of a building and into a car.

"We got him," Belgian government minister Theo Francken said on Twitter.

Hollande said France wanted to extradite Abdeslam, who was born and raised in Brussels to a Moroccan immigrant family, and hoped he would yield more clarity about an operation mounted by Syria-based Islamic State in which all the known attackers died.

Several bursts of gunfire rang out earlier in the capital's Molenbeek area - Abdeslam's home neighborhood and the scene of past investigations into the Paris attacks - and police officers surrounded an apartment block there from around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT).

Two explosions were heard after the arrest, though it was unclear whether they were part of a new operation or the clear-up. Some four hours later, the main police presence had stood down but crime scene investigators were still at work.

There had long been speculation about whether Abdeslam had stayed in Belgium or managed to flee to Syria. Security services will be seeking information from Abdeslam on Islamic State plans and structures, his contacts in Europe and Syria and support networks and finance.

See photos of Abdeslam and more suspects in the Paris attacks:

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Suspects in the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Salah Abdeslam, Ahmad Almohammad
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Prosecutor: Fugitive from Paris attacks arrested in Brussels shootout
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Abaaoud the Belgian jihadi suspected of masterminding deadly attacks in Paris was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the city prosecutor's office announced Thursday Nov. 1, 2015. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins' office said 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud was identified based on skin samples. His body was found in the apartment building targeted in the chaotic and bloody raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. (Militant photo via AP)
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Abaaoud, the child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in the Belgian capital’s Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, was identified by French authorities on Monday Nov. 16, 2015, as the presumed mastermind of the terror attacks last Friday in Paris that killed over a hundred people and injured hundreds more. (Militant Photo via AP)
This undated image taken from a Militant Website on Monday Nov. 16, 2015 showing Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud. A French official says Abdelhamid Abaaoud is the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks was also linked to thwarted train and church attacks. (Militant video via AP)
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the #ParisAttacks was "interviewed" in #ISIS's Dabiq magazine https://t.co/wSKmztFfn5
BREAKING: Third Bataclan attacker identified as Foued Mohamed-Aggad https://t.co/FYwEykV9Kp https://t.co/7g6vH7gvwH
This undated photo released late Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, by Greece's migration policy ministry shows a registration photo from a document issued to 25-year old Ahmad Almohammad, holder of a Syrian passport found near a dead assailant in the scene of a Paris attack Friday. The document was issued on Sunday, Oct. 4 by authorities on the Greek island of Leros, where the man arrived a day earlier on a frail boat carrying migrants over from Turkey. It protects him from deportation for six months, and is the same documentation routinely issued to thousands of newly-arrived migrants. (Greek Migration Ministry via AP)
This undated photo released late Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, by Greece's migration policy ministry shows a document issued to 25-year old Ahmad Almohammad, holder of a Syrian passport found near a dead assailant in the scene of a Paris attack Friday. The document was issued on Sunday, Oct. 4 by authorities on the Greek island of Leros, where the man arrived a day earlier on a frail boat carrying migrants over from Turkey. It protects him from deportation for six months, and is the same documentation routinely issued to thousands of newly-arrived migrants. On the right is a copy of his fingerprints, taken on Saturday, Oct. 3. (Greek Migration Policy Ministry via AP)

This undated file photo provided by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations continue Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. French police released the wanted notice and photo of the suspect on the run since the attacks in Paris on Friday. The notice, released on the France National Police Twitter account, says anyone seeing Salah Abdeslam, should consider him dangerous. (Police Nationale via AP)

This undated file photo released Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations continue. The notice, released on the national police Twitter account, says anyone seeing Salah Abdeslam, should consider him dangerous and call authorities immediately. The notice reads in French: "Call for witnesses - Police are hunting a suspect : Salah Abdeslam, born on Sept. 15, 1989 Brussels, Belgium. ...Dangerous individual don't intervene yourself". (Police Nationale via AP)
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Hollande said he was sure Abdeslam, whose elder brother blew himself up at a Parisian cafe on Nov. 13, had also been in the city that night and had helped plan the attack.

FINGERPRINTS

Belgian police had found fingerprints belonging to Abdeslam at the scene of an apartment raided on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

The Belgian federal prosecutor's office also said an Algerian killed during that earlier operation was probably one of the people French and Belgian investigators were seeking in relation to the attacks in Paris.

Public broadcaster RTBF said it had information that Abdeslam, whose elder brother blew himself up in Paris, was "more than likely" one of two men who police had said evaded capture at the scene before a sniper shot dead 35-year-old Belkaid as he aimed a Kalashnikov.

It said Belkaid was the man known to police as Samir Bouzid who has been sought since December when police issued CCTV pictures of him wiring cash from Brussels two days after the Paris attacks to a woman who was then killed in a shootout with police in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

She was a cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who had fought in Syria and is suspected of being a prime organizer of the attacks in which 130 people were killed. Both died in the apartment in St. Denis on Nov. 18.

France's BFM television said the fingerprints were found on a glass in the apartment, where four police officers, including a Frenchwoman, were wounded when a hail of automatic gunfire hit them through the front door as they arrived for what officials said they had expected to be a relatively routine search.

Abdeslam's elder brother was among the suicide bombers who killed themselves in Paris. The younger Abdeslam was driven back to Brussels from Paris hours later.

Belgian authorities are holding 10 people suspected of involvement with him, but there had been no report of the fugitive himself being sighted.

Investigators believe much of the planning and preparation for the November bombing and shooting rampage in Paris was conducted in Brussels by young French and Belgian nationals, some of whom fought in Syria for Islamic State.

The attack strained relations between Brussels and Paris, with French officials suggesting Belgium was lax in monitoring the activities of hundreds of militants returned from Syria.

Hollande and Michel took pains to exchange mutual compliments to their security services and cross-border cooperation.

Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was entirely locked down for days after the Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.

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