Only months before they participated in the purportedly religiously motivated mass slaughter of 130 people in Paris, Brahim and Salah Abdeslam were partying, drinking and living life to the full, a new video shows. The French brothers, who lived in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, are seen dancing and having a good time at a high-end nightclub in the Belgian capital in recorded mobile phone footage obtained by the CNN.
The clip was recorded by friend of the pair at a concert of French rapper Lacrim in the up-market Avenue Louise on 8 February, 2015. It shows Brahim, 31, cigarette in hand wooing a blonde girl while Salah, 26, dressed in an orange sweatshirt hopping to the sound of music in the background.
Nine months later Brahim blew himself up near a café on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris, while Salah allegedly backed out at the last minute, dropping his suicide vest and returning to Brussels. His arrest earlier in March brought a four-month manhunt to an end.
The friends that recorded the video were at loss as to explain how, over such a short period, the brothers abruptly turned from fun-loving young men to Islamist killers. "That was the last time I saw them drink," a friend speaking on condition of anonymity told the broadcaster.
"They were nice people," he added. "I suppose you could say they lived life to the full." Another friend described Salah as "something of a ladies' man" who liked drinking, playing cards and smoking.
The clip reinforced the perception of the brothers as jihadi newcomers with little religious education. Many members of the extremist cells that attacked Paris and later Brussels were European nationals from disadvantaged migrant backgrounds that turned radical Islamists after a life of vice and petty crimes.
The Abdeslam siblings used to run a pub named Les Beguines in the quiet Karreveld area of Molenbeek, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood that has become infamous as a jihadi hotbed. The pub was renowned in the area as a small drug-dealing hub and was shut down by authorities for that reason just weeks before the November attacks. "It was a fun place. It felt like family," a friend said of the Les Beguines.
Salah was captured not far from the premises on 18 March. The arrest is believed to have precipitated preparation for a second attack in Brussels that was eventually carried out on 22 March, as his alleged accomplices feared the police net was closing around them.