Hunt For Public Enemy No.1 Amid Belgian Raids

Tear gas is used during a special forces operation in Brussels as officers hunt key suspects of the Paris massacre.

A Paris attack suspect dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” is thought to still be on the run despite earlier reports he had been caught by Belgian police.

Earlier, there were conflicting reports over claims that Salah Abdeslam, a Frenchman wanted in connection with Friday’s massacre, had been arrested by police in Brussels.

Salah Abdeslam

Key suspect Salah Abdeslam

The 26-year-old was said to have been captured alive during a major Belgian special forces operation in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, according to Belgian broadcaster RTL.

He was reportedly seen at a window of an address with his arms up in the air, before police used tear gas to neutralise him.

However, Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said the wanted man – who rented a car which was used to carry gunmen to the Bataclan theatre in Paris – had not been arrested.

Sky’s Tom Parmenter said reports he had been caught were unconfirmed.

He said: “It seems that one individual has been arrested by special forces in that particular part of Belgium using tear gas – throwing it through a roof window, and then seemingly according to reports there, pulling one individual out of an apartment.”

Residents were told to stay away while dozens of police, including special commandos in balaclavas, searched premises.

Sky’s Robert Nisbet, at the scene, said the offensive lasted three hours and police carried out what were believed to be two, small controlled explosions.

“Earlier on there was some activity on the roof of one of the buildings, where one of the windows of the roof was prised open and what appeared to be either tear gas or a smoke bomb was dropped in and then a person was dragged out through that window and detained by police,” he said.

Raids have been taking place at addresses in Molenbeek, which has a substantial Muslim population of mostly Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, since two of the Paris suspects were identified as having lived in the district.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Belgian police raided several addresses in the district and arrested seven people in connection with the atrocity during the weekend.

Belgian prosecutors on Monday said five of these had now been released, including Salah Abdeslam’s brother Mohammad.

Brahim Abdeslam died when he detonated his suicide vest on Friday outside a cafe.

Authorities in Belgium have warned the Molenbeek suburb has become a breeding ground for radical Islamists.

Two Belgian-registered cars found near the sites of the terrorist attacks in Paris have led officials to believe perhaps a sleeper cell was operating in Molenbeek, which is well known for being a hotbed of jihadism.

A Moroccan-born member of the group behind the 2004 Madrid bombings was from the area, and so was the man behind a recent attempted attack on a Thalys high-speed train from Brussels to Paris.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there would be “more action” in Molenbeek – and urged intelligence services across the rest of Europe “to exchange more and more intelligence”.

The fresh raids took place as Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud was named the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks.

Abaaoud, currently in Syria, was reportedly also linked to thwarted attacks on a Paris-bound high-speed train and church.

Sky News