Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris attacks, will fight his extradition to France, a legal challenge that could delay his trial over the massacre.
Abdeslam’s lawyer, Sven Mary, said his client had been formally charged in connection with the Paris attacks and was “collaborating” with Belgian investigators but would challenge his extradition to France.
After spending 10 minutes with the suspect, a 26-year-old former tram driver, Mary said: “France has demanded his extradition. I can tell you that we will refuse extradition to France. We will first see whether the European arrest warrant is legal.”
Legal experts cautioned that Abdeslam’s refusal did not mean extradition would fail as under the European arrest warrant anyone who commits a serious offence in the EU can be sent back to face justice in the country where the crime took place.
Florence Rouas-Elbazis, a French lawyer, told Agence France-Presse: “It is not because he refuses that he cannot be handed over, but it could lead to an additional delay.”
Abdeslam was arrested on Friday in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek where he grew up. He became the most wanted man in Europe after going into hiding shortly after the bombings and shootings in Paris on 13 November that left 130 people dead.
An accomplice arrested with him, believed to be Amine Choukri, has been similarly charged with “terrorist killings and participating in the activities of a terrorist group”.
The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, welcomed Abdeslam’s arrest but said the terror threat remained “very high”. “As high as, if not higher than, we had before 13 November,” Valls added.
“Other networks, other cells, other individuals in France and in Europe are getting organised to prepare new attacks. We must remain mobilised at a national as well as European level.”
Abdeslam was officially charged with “with participation in terrorist murder” and in the activities of a terrorist organisation.
A four-month international manhunt came to an end on Friday when heavily armed Belgian police tracked Abdeslam to an apartment in Molenbeek, Brussels, 500 metres from where he grew up. As the suspect fled with a man believed to be an accomplice, he was shot in the leg.