Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive wanted in connection with the terrorist attacks in Paris, has contacted a Brussels defense lawyer, Belgium’s Belga news agency reported on Thursday.
Without naming its source, Belga said Abdeslam had touched base with attorney Sven Mary, who had previously said he would defend the Brussels-born French national if requested.
Abdeslam is thought to have played a key logistical role in planning the attacks. On the night of the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people in the French capital, Abdeslam called two friends in Brussels to pick him up and has been on the run ever since.
Lawyer Sven Mary declined to comment on the reports, but told “Le Soir” newspaper in December that he would agree to represent Abdeslam because he wanted to fight the ‘abuse of power’ on the part of authorities who were using the Paris attacks for ‘surfing on fear to get even more power’.
Responding to Belga’s report, federal prosecutors told the agency that it was ‘just a rumor, which we will not react to’.
Abdeslam remains the most import fugitive in the hunt for answers after Paris. He is believed to have returned to Brussels, but several police raids have failed to discover his hiding place. The report from Belga has led to media speculation that he is preparing to turn himself in.
Meanwhile, one of the bars targeted in a series of terrorist attacks in Paris onNovember 13 reopened Wednesday, two months after gunmen shot more than a dozen people on its terraces.
Le Carillon, a popular cafe and bar near the Canal Saint Martin, has been the site of impromptu memorials since the shootings. Murals have adorned its walls and flags have been strung up in the streets around the cafe after the attacks which claimed altogether 130 lives.
The bar was one of some six cafes and restaurants targeted and the extremist group ‘Islamic State’ claimed responsibility for the attacks. Another bar, A La Bonne Biere, reopened its doors in December.
The band Eagles of Death Metal, whose performance was cut short by attackers who stormed the Bataclan concert hall and killed 90 people, has scheduled a return performance in February in Paris.
Paris tourism took a hit in the weeks following the violence. State statistics agency Insee said hotel occupancy in the French capital dropped by 25 percent in the two weeks that followed the attacks, compared to November 2014. Parisian hotels – that usually have no vacancy during Christmas and the New Year celebrations – saw their activity drop by 30 to 40 percent at the end of the year. Museum attendance also suffered. Visitors at the Louvre decreased by seven percent and Versailles palace lost four percent visitors in 2015.
A group of 20 companies involved in France’s tourism sector have launched an online campaign inviting people to share pictures with the hashtag #Parisweloveyou. In coming weeks, a giant hashtag sculpture covered by the mosaic of photos will be placed at a symbolic Parisian site. The precise location remains secret.