Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint was found in the apartment on December 10, but prosecutors would not say why they waited a month to announce it. The search also turned up three suspected suicide belts, traces of the same explosive used in the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people, and other material that could be used to manufacture bombs, according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
The third-floor apartment was probably used as a hideout, after Abdeslam fled the attacks, federal prosecutor, Eric Van der Sypt, said.
Abdeslam, who is still at large, called for two friends to pick him up, amid the bloodshed and chaos that night, which left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.
“We found material to make explosives, we found traces of explosives and we found three belts. So you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to make the right deduction,” Van der Sypt told the Associated Press.
Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris attacks. A French gendarme stopped him and his two friends, in their car, near the border, but released them. The friends are among 10 people arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks.
Authorities now believe Abdeslam returned to the apartment, was picked up by someone else “and we lost trace”, Van der Sypt said.
The apartment, at Rue Berge, in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood, had been rented under a false identity perhaps used by one of those now under arrest.
The three handmade belts “could have been intended for the transport of explosives”, the prosecutor’s office said. Traces of the highly volatile TATP, which was packed into the suicide vests in November, were also detected, as was other material that could be used to manufacture explosives.
Paris was again jolted on Thursday, when a man wearing a fake explosives vest and wielding a butcher’s knife ran up to a police station and was shot dead by officers standing guard.
Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, said investigators are unsure of the man’s true identity. He carried a paper marked with the Muslim declaration of faith, an emblem of the Islamic State group and his name, and gave his nationality as Tunisian.