Salah Abdeslam, sentenced to life in jail over the 2015 Paris jihadist attacks, was removed from his Belgian prison cell on Wednesday and transferred back to France.
Found guilty in Belgium last year of planning subsequent 2016 attacks in Brussels, his transfer back to continue serving out his French prison sentence had been blocked by an appeals court on human rights grounds.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office confirmed the transfer — first announced by Abdeslam’s lawyer — saying he was taken from a Brussels jail to the border and handed over to French authorities.
After the Paris attacks, Abdeslam fled to Brussels where he was arrested in March 2016, days before suicide attacks that killed 32 and injured hundreds at Brussels airport and a metro station.
Both massacres were part of a wave of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group in Europe.
Since 2016, Abdeslam has been detained mostly in France, but his lawyers have argued he should be allowed to serve his sentence in Belgium, where he grew up and has family ties despite holding French citizenship.
A Brussels appeal court suspended his transfer back to France over concerns it contravened the European Convention of Human Rights and its protection of the right to “family life”.
Abdeslam’s lawyer Delphine Paci slammed the transfer as “a flagrant violation of the rule of law”.
“There was clearly collusion between the Belgian state and the French state to violate a court decision,” she said. “This is clearly about a kind of thirst for revenge that has taken precedence over the rule of law.”
But in its statement, the prosecutor’s office said Abdeslam’s eventual transfer back was never in question.
“Salah Abdeslam’s return to France at the end of the criminal proceedings was legally irrevocable,” it said.
The prosecutor’s office argued that the legal agreement for Belgium to transfer him back to France superseded the civil ruling by the Brussels appeal court.
What’s more, it argued that Belgium risked potentially finding itself without legal grounds to keep him in detention.
Though Abdeslam was found guilty over the Brussels attacks, the court gave him no additional term since he had already been sentenced in Belgium to 20 years in 2018 over a shootout.
“Releasing him was obviously not an option,” the statement said.