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Suspected Mastermind Of Paris Attacks 'Died In Police Raid'

  • RFE/RL

An undated picture taken from the February 2015 issue of the Islamic State (IS) group's online English-language magazine purportedly shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, also known as Abu Umar al-Baljiki.

An undated picture taken from the February 2015 issue of the Islamic State (IS) group's online English-language magazine purportedly shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, also known as Abu Umar al-Baljiki.

French authorities say they have confirmed that the suspected mastermind of the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks was killed by police during a raid north of the French capital.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said 28-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an Islamic State (IS) militant from Belgium, was "formally identified after comparing fingerprints" from remains discovered after a November 18 police raid on an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

In a statement on November 19, Molins said Abaaoud was "the body we had discovered in the building, riddled with bullets."

Abaaoud had boasted of being responsible for attacks in Europe as part of the IS militant group, and was suspected of orchestrating the series of attacks that left 129 dead in and around Paris last week.

Police originally thought Abaaoud was in Syria, but their investigations led them to the apartment building in Saint-Denis. It was stormed by armed police before dawn on November 18, triggering a massive gun battle and a series of explosions.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Abaaoud was suspected of having a hand in a number of other terror plots as well.

He said that the ongoing investigation into the Paris attacks would "establish with precision the implication of this Belgian-Moroccan citizen," who was killed during the November 18 raid in Saint Denis.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls welcomed Abaaoud's death, saying that "we know that Abaaoud, the mastermind of these attacks -- or one of the masterminds, because we must be careful and we know the threats -- is among the dead."

Earlier on November 19, the French parliament's lower chamber voted to extend a state of emergency across the country by three months. The temporary measure, which was originally imposed in the early morning hours of November 14 as Paris was reeling from the attacks, will be extended immediately if approved by the French Senate in a vote that is expected on November 20.

Addressing lawmakers in the lower house on November 19, Valls warned that France faced the risk of more terrorist attacks, including possible "chemical or biological weapons."

He did not say, however, that there was a specific threat involving such weapons.

The provisions of the state of emergency agreed to on November 19 would allow the government to block websites and social media.

Meanwhile, security operations were continuing in France and other European countries aimed at tracking down the European network of the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which has claimed responsibility for the November 13 attacks on a Paris rock concert, Parisian cafes, and the national stadium.

Belgium's Interior Ministry says Belgian police staged nine raids on November 19 and arrested nine suspects who are accused of being linked to the Paris terrorist attacks.

Many of the raids were reportedly conducted in the largely immigrant area of Molenbeek, where Abdelhamid Abaaoud and two brothers linked to the attacks, Brahim and Salah Abdeslam, came from.

A Belgian prosecutor said at least six of the raids were linked to IS suicide bomber Bilal Hadfi, a 20-year-old French national of Moroccan descent who was living in Belgium and spent time in Syria earlier in 2015.

Hadfi was one of three suicide bombers who carried out an attack on the Stade de France on November 13.

French forensics teams at work outside a building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on November 19

French forensics teams at work outside a building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on November 19

Belgium has been at the center of investigations into the Paris attacks.

In a speech to Belgium's federal parliament on November 19, Prime Minister Charles Michel pledged a security crackdown and an extra 400 million euros ($427 million) to fight Islamist violence.

Michel called for changes to Belgium's constitution to combat extremists, including changes that would triple preventive detention times for suspected terrorists.

He said Belgium would move forward alone on a system of sharing airline passenger information that European Union states have been incapable of agreeing upon for four years.

"The risk before us is the collapse of the entire European project if we don't take our responsibilities," Michel said. "All democratic forces have to work together to strengthen our security."

French Prime Minister Valls on November 19 called on Europe to urgently adopt measures on sharing airline passenger information.

"More than ever, it's time for Europe to adopt the text...to guarantee the traceability of movements, including within the union," Valls said. "It's a condition of our collective security."

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone to French President Francois Hollande on November 19 about the investigation into last week's attacks in Paris, the White House said in a statement.

The two leaders reiterated their "unwavering commitment to degrade and destroy" Islamic State, according to the statement.

Hollande will meet Obama at the White House next week, when they "will engage in discussions on the way forward to defeat ISIL [IS], help to bring to an end the conflict in Syria, and to ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard our citizens from the threat of terrorism," the White House statement said.

Also on November 19, Hollande ordered air strikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq to be stepped up.

"Francois Hollande gave the necessary instructions for the intensification of the military operations under way against [IS] in Syria as well as in Iraq," the French president's office said a statement issued following his meeting with cabinet ministers and military chiefs.

With reporting by AFP, AP, BBC, Reuters, and The New York Times
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