Belgium says that before Friday’s massacre in Paris, police questioned two brothers at the centre of the terror
plot but the pair were released because they didn’t appear to represent any threat.
Brahim Abdeslam, 31, blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire in the French capital, a cafe close to the Bataclan concert hall where gunmen killed 89 of the 129 people slaughtered in the co-ordinated attacks.
His brother Salah Abdeslam, 26, a key suspect in the Paris killings, is now on the run and the object of an international arrest warrant.
Brahim ran Les Beguines, a neighbourhood bar in the Molenbeek area of Brussels, where police found young men dealing drugs and smoking dope over the summer.
The brothers sold the business just six weeks ago. It was closed down in early November following reports of drugs on the premises.
An acquaintance of Brahim, who chose to remain anonymous, describes him as follows:
“He watched a lot of videos on the Islamic State. Sometimes when he was angry he would say ‘I am going to blow everything up’. But he smoked a lot of cannabis so you say to yourself ‘maybe it is just the effect on his brain.’ You think, he is a bit weird, he is in a frenzy. Brahim came to us in this neighbourhood over a week ago to ask us to hide some Kalashnikovs. But as we knew he was a weirdo we said ‘Brahim, you’re joking?’ He said: ‘No, I am serious.’ I have got enough gear to blow up all of Belgium.”
Both brothers lived in Molenbeek – a Brussels district known as a hotbed of radical Islam.
Yet its mayor Francoise Schepmans says the pair had every chance to integrate.
“The Abdeslam brothers were not social rejects,” she said.
“They were not poor lads whose parents had nothing and who hung around the streets. They were boys who had an education, who were given work – a family who were given housing and despite all that they fell into radicalism, into terrorism.”
Whatever their life chances, the fact remains that the brothers were questioned in Belgium – exactly when has not been revealed – without French authorities being informed.