Two Dead In Major Raid Operation Targeting Suspected Paris Attacks Mastermind
Seven arrests made as woman blows herself up and man is killed by grenade during raid on apartment in St-Denis, north of Paris
Two people have been killed and seven arrested during a major police operation targeting the alleged mastermind of last week’s terror attacks in Paris.
A man wanted in connection with the bloody series of suicide bombings and shootings in the French capital on Friday was killed by a grenade during the raid, while a woman blew herself up by detonating an explosive vest.
The French government spokesman, Stéphane le Foll, declared the raid, which involved several hundred heavily armed anti-terrorist police and Swat teams, officially over at about 11.30am, seven hours after it started.
There was no information about the fate of a third fugitive thought by police still to have been holed up in the apartment on the rue de Corbillon in St-Denis, a town just north of Paris.
France Unsure if Raid Killed Top Suspect in Paris Attacks
Abdelhamid Abaaoud Credit via Reuters
At least two people died in the operation — a young woman who set off an explosive vest, and a person whose body was riddled with gunfire and shrapnel — and eight were arrested.
The prosecutor, François Molins, said that Mr. Abaaoud and another fugitive, Salah Abdeslam, were not among those arrested. But he said the authorities were not certain about the number of dead, or their identities, leaving open the possibility that either or both men might still be on the run. “As I speak, I am unable to give you a definitive number and identities of people killed,” he said.
Mr. Molins said the fighting was so intense — the police fired more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and a gun battle went on with hardly any interruption for nearly an hour, he said — that it could take some time for the authorities to determine what had happened inside the building, which was at risk of collapse.
Sanoko Abdulai, who lives near the site of Wednesday's police raid in St.-Denis, France, described waking up to the sound of gunfire.
Mr. Molins said the assault was one result of an investigation that is gathering steam. “A new team of terrorists was neutralized, and all elements suggest that with regards to their armament, their structured organization and their determination, this commando group could have taken action,” he said.
The raid, on the Rue du Corbillon, began around 4:15 a.m. Paris time, when special police forces, backed by truckloads of soldiers, cordoned off an area near the Place Jean Jaurès, a main square in the medieval heart of St.-Denis — not far from the Stade de France, the stadium where three attackers blew themselves up on Friday.
The police shouted at pedestrians to get off the street or seek cover; officers even broke through the door of a small church, St.-Denys de l’Estrée, chasing down what turned out to be a false lead. The raid was so intense that the building was at risk of collapse; workers had to shore it up to prevent it falling.
The police operation transfixed a country still reeling from the attacks, the worst terrorist assault in Western Europe since 2004; officials said on Wednesday that they had finally completed the grim task of positively identifying all 129 of the people who were killed. Soldiers patrolled La Défense, the business district west of Paris. Two flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport were diverted because of a security scare there.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, announced that the police had conducted 414 raids across the country over the past three nights. Sixty people have been arrested and detained, and 75 weapons seized, including 11 heavy weapons, 33 long firearms and 31 handguns, the statement said. An additional 118 people were put under house arrest.
The news that Mr. Abaaoud was the target of the raids came as something of a revelation. Intelligence officials in both France and the United States had said on Tuesday that they believed that Mr. Abaaoud was in Syria — where he traveled last year to fight for the Islamic State, and lured his 13-year-old brother to join him. It now appears that he may have been in Europe all along.
“A lot of work was done as part of this investigation, which made it possible to obtain, through phone records, surveillance and testimony, elements that could have suggested that the man named Abaaoud was potentially in an apartment used for plotting in St.-Denis,” he said.
A man arrested during the police operation on Wednesday later told Agence France-Presse that he had lent the apartment to the men as a favor to a friend. “I said that there was no mattress, they told me, ‘It’s not a problem,’ they just wanted water and to pray,” the man was quoted as saying, before he was handcuffed and led away by the police.
The police operation unfolded over nearly seven hours, with an initial series of explosions followed by sporadic bursts of gunfire. A government spokesman declared on Twitter at 11:47 a.m. that the operation was over. Five police officers were lightly wounded, and a 7-year-old police dog, a Malinois named Diesel, was killed.
Mr. Cazeneuve said the 110 police officers involved had been “extremely brave” during the operation, “enduring gunfire for many hours, in conditions that they had never encountered until now.” He also praised the inhabitants of St.-Denis for their calm.
St.-Denis, a city of 118,000, is known for its melting-pot population and large Muslim community, as well as a Gothic basilica where many French monarchs are buried.
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Djamila Khaldi, a 54-year-old cashier who lives near the basilica, was preparing to take her daughter to the airport when the gunfire erupted.
Ms. Khaldi said she was not surprised the police had tracked the suspects to the neighborhood. She said a friend of hers believed she had seen one of the wanted men, Salah Abdeslam, on Monday.
“She was terrified, and she looked at another woman knowing that she recognized him too,” Ms. Khaldi said. “They did not dare to go to the police.”
Didier Paillard, the mayor of St.-Denis, said the Rue du Corbillon, where the raid occurred, had “many buildings and habitats in a disgraceful state,” with some apartments lacking even electricity and running water. “We were not prepared for this discovery,” he said of the raid. “This is a city that has 130 different nationalities, including people who come from war zones. We are a population that needs serenity.”
Read the rest: nytimes.com