(ABC News) — The fugitive ISIS gunman from the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, is hiding in the Brussels area and has called friends to help him get back to Syria, according to two friends who told ABC News that they and a third friend spoke with Abdeslam this week via Skype on a cell phone. Abdeslam’s brother, Mohamed, confirmed two of the friends told him about Abdeslam’s desperate phone call, and today Mohamed urged his brother to turn himself in to police.
“I believe he is not far away,” said Mohamed Abdeslam outside his apartment building in Brussels.
Police have issued an international arrest warrant for Salah Abdeslam, 26, who authorities said fled the scene in Paris and returned to his hometown in the Brussels area the morning after the shooting. He is described as armed and dangerous.
A Belgian police official said today that authorities also have information Abdeslam is in the Brussels area.
The friends, who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said Abdeslam called them Tuesday evening and said he is in hiding in the Brussels area but is desperately trying to get to ISIS territory in Syria.
The friends said Abdeslam told them he was in a bad situation, caught between Belgium and French officials who were hunting for him and local ISIS members he said were “watching him” and unhappy with him after he failed to detonate his suicide vest.
Abdeslam insisted he played only a minor role in the attacks, but his friends said they doubted his claim of innocence. His brother told ABC News that Abdeslam was “manipulated” by the attack mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, killed in a police raid Thursday in France. Abaaoud and Abdeslam were childhood friends and were arrested when caught in a robbery in 2010, according to an Abaaoud family attorney.
Police said Abdeslam is believed to be one of the gunmen who fired indiscriminately at a series of restaurants and cafes during the Friday night massacre that in all claimed 130 lives.
The friends said Abdeslam also asked them to send apologies to his family and his brother Mohamed, who was arrested by Belgian police but later released.
Mohamed Abdeslam has publicly pleaded with his brother to turn himself in.
Salah Abdeslam worked as security guard and mechanic for the Belgium public transportation company, SITB, for about a year, but was fired for failing to show up to work on a regular basis, his colleagues told ABC News. The company confirmed the details of his employment and termination.
Since then, a variety of friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood told ABC News, Abdeslam lived on unemployment benefits and was known as a small-time drug dealer and user, stoned on hashish most days.
The last time they saw him, the friends told ABC News, was 10 days before the Paris attacks when he hosted a hashish-fueled party in a local apartment.