Justice Minister: “Not aware that Abdeslam is abroad”

The criteria on which the National Security Council based their decision to reduce the terror threat level in the Brussel-Capital Region remain a mystery. Could it be (as some have speculated) that the fugitive terror suspect Salah Abdeslam on his way to Syria?

Speaking on VRT Radio 1’s morning news and current affairs programme ‘De ochtend’, the Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens (Flemish Christian democrat) said that he is “completely unaware” of whether Mr Abdeslam is abroad.

The Justice Minister also refused to comment on why the terror threat level in the capital had been reduced. All Mr Geens would say is that “OCAD (the body that analyses the level of threat from terrorism) makes regular evaluations of the situation based on information it receives from the security services."

"The imminent threat now appears to have subsided, however we remain in a heightened state of vigilance. We should not think that the treat has gone. It is just that the threat is no longer imminent.”

Salah Abdeslam abroad?

The heightened state of vigilance remains until the fugitive terror suspect Salah Abdeslam (photo) is caught.

Speaking earlier this week in VRT television’s current affairs programme ‘De afspraak’, the former Head of OCAD Luc Verheyden said that they are three possible scenarios “Either Salah Abdeslam is caught, there will be an attack here or he is abroad”.

As the first two scenarios put forward by Mr Verheyden have yet to transpire, speculation is growing as to whether Salah Abdeslam is on his way to Syria.

"We are not aware that he is. It is often easy to compare the threat level with the progress that has been made in an investigation. This is just one of many factors, there are a number of other factors that help determine whether the threat level is raised or lowered”, Mr Geens told listeners.

The Justice Minister remained tight-lipped about Thursday’s raids in Verviers (Liège province) and Namur. All Mr Geens would say is that the investigation is making good progress.