As police descended Friday on the hideout of accused Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, residents of the Brussels neighborhood where he was believed to be sheltered started hurling bottles and other projectiles at authorities.
The Belgian newspaper La Libre reported the surreal scene unfolded as police finally nabbed Abdeslam after the ISIS-linked terrorist evaded capture for more than four months since the Nov. 13 attacks. It is believed he spent the majority of that time hiding in the same Brussels neighborhood: the infamous Muslim enclave of Molenbeek, which Belgium's prime minister Charles Michel described in November as a "gigantic problem.”
Abdeslam was arrested along with four other people, “members of the family that hid” him, according to Belgium Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt. Police ultimately tracked him down after his fingerprints were found at another Molenbeek house earlier in the week.
In November, Belgian Home Affairs Minister Jan Jambon said the government did not “have control of the situation in Molenbeek.”
The district is a widely known as something of a jihadi capital in Europe.
The Paris attacks mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, grew up there. Analysts have described it as a “scruffy” and multiethnic neighborhood. The mayor of Molenbeek has called it “a breeding ground for violence.”
Experts call the hardscrabble area a focal point of Islamists and a hub for the recruitment of foreign fighters to go to Iraq and Syria to battle on behalf of ISIS. Some of those who’ve joined ISIS in the Middle East are even thought to have returned to Molenbeek.
Belgium's federal police have allowed districts such as Molenbeek to fall through the cracks, according to some experts.
"It's a place where you can disappear," said Bilal Benyaich, a senior fellow at Brussels think-tank the Itinera Institute.
"You can get a military weapon in half an hour" for just a few hundred dollars, Benyaich told Reuters. He said that's unusual across much of Europe, which tends to be more restrictive.
The district is very poor compared to many of its neighbors. Its unemployment rate is 25 percent, and more than three out of every 10 people there are out of work.
Michel said that despite recent efforts by security forces, "There has to be more of a crackdown."
That crackdown had yet to materialize when terrorists struck an airport and metro station Tuesday in Brussels, just days after Abdeslam was captured in Molenbeek.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.