BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive suspected in the deadly attacks in Paris, was at the main Budapest train station before mid-September and left with men who had been traveling amid a wave of asylum-seekers trying to enter Europe, Hungarian officials said Thursday.
In Belgium, meanwhile, two more suspects in the Paris attacks were taken into custody facing terrorism charges. In all, Belgium now has eight suspects behind bars who are linked to the Paris attacks or to a possible attack in Brussels.
Janos Lazar, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, said at a news conference Thursday that the Hungarian secret services had confirmed information about Abdeslam's travels they had received from foreign agencies. He said the secret services did not have this information at the time of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks nor as the Budapest train station became a hotspot last summer during Europe's migrant crisis.
While Lazar did not mention Abdeslam by name, his identity was confirmed to The Associated Press by a government spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
According to Lazar, the Paris fugitive was at the Keleti Railway terminal in Budapest, where he recruited young men who were refusing to register with Hungarian authorities, and later left the country with them. He said he was confirming press accounts, which had reported that Abdeslam left with two men. Lazar did not give a specific date when Abdeslam was seen.
Thousands of refugees had congregated at Keleti over the summer, seeking to board trains bound for Austria and Germany. The situation escalated after Sept. 1, when Hungarian authorities temporarily shut down the station as the flow of migrants grew difficult to control.
This led to protests by migrants, many of whom had valid tickets, demanding to be let on the trains. On Sept. 4, thousands began walking on a highway to Vienna. The Hungarian government then began sending migrants at the station and those on the highway to the Austrian border by bus. The presence of asylum-seekers at Keleti dwindled quickly after Hungary shut its border with Serbia on Sept. 15 with a razor-wire fence.
The Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group, left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.
In Belgium on Thursday, the federal prosecutor's office said at dawn Sunday, a French citizen identified only as Samir Z. was detained at Brussels national airport as he was seeking to fly to Morocco. The Frenchman had already tried twice to travel to Syria this year.
The suspect is said to be part of the entourage of Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers at the French national stadium on Nov. 13.
Belgian prosecutors also said a second man, identified as Pierre N., was arrested during a raid hours after Sunday's airport detention.
Both men were charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and hail from Molenbeek, a Brussels neighborhood linked to at least three other attackers in Paris.