Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving member of a jihadist cell that staged attacks in Paris in 2015, was transferred from Belgium to France on Wednesday to finish serving out a life sentence.
The 34-year-old has been moved to a prison in the Paris region, French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said after Belgian authorities announced the move.
Abdeslam was sentenced to life in jail in 2022 over the attacks that killed 130 people in the French capital in November 2015, the worst in the country’s history.
Last September he was also found guilty of planning attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels the following year, after being sent to Belgium to stand trial.
His transfer back to France had since been held up by a legal dispute.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said Abdeslam was taken Wednesday morning from a Brussels jail to the border, and handed over to French authorities.
Abdeslam was one of a 10-man Islamic State cell that struck multiple targets in Paris, including a France-Germany football match, cafe terraces and a packed Bataclan concert hall.
Some 90 people were killed at the Bataclan alone. More than 350 people were wounded in all. Abdeslam’s nine fellow attackers blew themselves up or were killed by police.
After the attacks, Abdeslam fled to Brussels — where he was arrested days before the March 2016 attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station.
Since then, Abdeslam has been detained mostly in France, but his lawyers have been fighting for him to be allowed to serve his sentence in Belgium, where he grew up and has family ties despite holding French citizenship.
A Brussels appeal court had suspended his transfer back to France over concerns it contravened the European Convention of Human Rights and its protection of the right to “family life”.
“It’s perfectly logical for him to serve his sentence in Belgium,” said Delphine Paci, one of his lawyers.
Another lawyer, Harold Sax, criticised his detention conditions in France, saying they involved solitary confinement, video surveillance and excessive monitoring of his communications by the authorities.
Paci slammed the transfer as “a flagrant violation of the rule of law”.
“There was clearly collusion between the Belgian state and the French state to violate a court decision,” she said. “This is clearly about a kind of thirst for revenge that has taken precedence over the rule of law.”
The Belgian prosecutor’s office argued that the legal agreement with France for Belgium to transfer the prisoner superseded the civil appeals court ruling against his transfer.
In a statement, it said Abdeslam’s return to France following the Belgian criminal proceedings was always planned and “legally irrevocable.”
“There was no more scope for France to extend Salah Abdeslam’s detention period in Belgium,” it added, arguing that Belgium risked potentially finding itself without legal grounds to keep him in custody.
“Releasing him was obviously not an option,” the statement said.