Key Paris Terrorist Arrested After Belgium Asked For NSA’s Help

Reuters/Eric Gaillard

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Belgian officials were able to capture the only surviving suspect in the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead, after receiving assistance from the NSA.

Salah Abdeslam was arrested during a shootout more than four months after the original attacks. The NSA helped Belgian law enforcement parse through phone metadata, Buzzfeed reports. The authorities searched through mobile phone data to determine who attended the funeral of Chakib Akrouh, a fellow Paris attacker.

“We called the American [NSA] before the funeral,” a Belgian state security official told Buzzfeed. “As Edward Snowden has so helpfully explained to everyone, the NSA are the best at signal intercepts.” The agency came to the aid of Belgium and were able to acquire “all the information about all the phones present [at the funeral].”

Akrouh’s remains were badly damaged from an explosion after he blew himself up during a standoff with police. His corpse was identified following DNA testing. Belgian authorities knew that a burial ceremony was imminent, and that they would need to gather as much intelligence as possible from the attendees. Belgian officials reached out to America’s key surveillance agency to help collect phone metadata.

One of the Belgian officials detailed how they were tracking an affiliate of Abdeslam at the funeral, who was filming the memorial service.

“The guy is filming on a smartphone — that tells us he’s going to send that file to someone, right?” the security service source told Buzzfeed. “We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”

The collaboration shows that information sharing among international allies is critical for the fight against extremist terrorism.

For months, Belgian authorities’ efforts seemed to be at a standstill. Officials almost had the terrorist after they located his whereabouts, but were unable to act because of a law that forbids raids from taking place overnight.

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