Police in Belgian town say they 'forgot' to pass along information about Paris attacker's whereabouts
The police in the Belgian town of Mechelen knew the whereabouts of the prime suspect behind the Paris terrorist attacks, Salah Abdeslam, as far back as December — but failed to share the intelligence with other Belgian authorities.
The Flemish newspaper De Morgen first reported the news, which was later confirmed by Mechelen's police chief, Yves Bogaerts, in a news conference.
"Unfortunately, a mistake has been made within my team," he said, according to De Morgen. "A colleague with an excellent record of service forgot to pass on the information from [Abdeslam's] file."
Learn more about the suspects of the Paris attacks:
The Mechelen police apparently received a tip from Abdeslam's nephew, Abid Aberkan, in November that Abdeslam may have been hiding in Mechelen, a town just north of Brussels. The Mechelen police filed the report on Abdeslam's whereabouts on December 7, three weeks after the fugitive was believed to have helped plan and carry out November's Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.
The information was evidently supposed to be transferred to the Antwerp prosecutor's office and referred to the federal police. Abdeslam was captured in a raid by Belgian police officers last week — after three months that he most likely spent planning Tuesday's attacks in Brussels, authorities have said.
The incident highlights the fragmented nature of Belgium's security apparatus. In Brussels alone, the police force is divided among six police corps spread out over 19 boroughs.
Françoise Schepmans, the mayor of Molenbeek — the Brussels district where Abdeslam was arrested that is known as a hotbed for jihadists — told CNN there was "no collaboration" between the local and federal police forces in Belgium.
"They don't have to talk to me about their investigation," Schepmans said, referring to the police in different districts.
At least 30 people were reported killed and hundreds more wounded after explosions ripped through Zaventem Airport and a metro station in Brussels on Tuesday morning.
Belgian authorities have been criticized over reports that they interrogated Abdeslam for only one hour between the time he was captured last week and Tuesday's attacks.
Abdeslam's lawyer has insisted that he was not aware of the plot. But prosecutors say they have linked Abdeslam to the attacks, noting that his fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment that had been rented out by one of the Brussels suicide bombers, Khalid El Bakraoui.
Belgium's interior minister, Jan Jambon, and Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens both offered to resign after the attacks over the security lapses that may have allowed the attackers to plan and carry out their attacks undetected. Their resignations were refused by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
See the international response to the Brussels attacks:
- A suicide note found on a discarded laptop may reveal a key difference between the Brussels and Paris attacks
- 'The world must unite': Obama addresses Brussels attacks during Cuba speech
- 'Belgians have a really big problem': Antiterror police are overwhelmed by jihadists who threaten the country