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Eight Arrested, Two Dead As French Police Raid Targets Alleged Mastermind

  • RFE/RL

Reports from a northern Paris suburb say at least two suspects sought in connection with the November 13 terrorist attacks in France have been killed and eight others arrested during a raid on an apartment.

Police sources say Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of last week’s coordinated terrorist attacks in and around Paris, was the focus of the raid in Saint-Denis.

According to earlier reports, Abaaoud was thought to have fled to Belgium or Syria.

Several hours after the November 18 raid, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Abaaoud was not in custody. He said the precise number of those killed in the raid was not clear, while adding the identities of the dead were still being investigated.

"As I speak, I am unable to give you a definitive number and identities of people killed," Molins said.

He added: "A body riddled with impacts was found in the debris of the building. The state of the body has not permitted, at this stage, to identify it."

Molins said in total eight individuals -- seven men and a woman -- had been arrested in the raid. Reports suggested that the arrests were made inside the targeted apartment or near the scene of the raid.

Molins said the suspected terrorists were ready to act.

"A new team of terrorists was neutralized and all indications are that given their arms, their organizational structure and their determination, the commando could have struck," he said.

He said police fired some 5,000 rounds during an hourlong exchange of fire at a hideout where the terrorist cell had holed up.

Three unnamed sources told Reuters the raid stopped a terrorist cell that had been planning an attack on the Paris business district of La Defense.

Explosions and gunfire were heard during the operation, which began before dawn on November 18.

Authorities said one of the suspects was shot dead and the other, a woman, blew herself up using a suicide belt as the raid began.

Five police officers were also wounded and a police dog was shot and killed by the suspects during the raid.

LIVE BLOG: Paris Raids & Tracking Islamic State

French prosecutors said seven were arrested after a standoff -- including at least three men inside the apartment as well as a man and a woman near the scene of the raid. Their identities were not immediately released.

Authorities reportedly were using DNA tests to confirm the identities of those killed and detained.

AFP reports that the raid also involved the deployment of French military troops after more than an hour of heavy, sustained gunfire by the suspects and a series of explosions.

Residents in the neighborhood of the raid said gunfire woke them up at about 4:20 a.m. and they saw security forces on the roof of a building opposite the apartment.

They said the explosions occurred about three hours after the gunfire began and smashed the windows of the apartment.

Abdeslam Salah (left) and Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Abdeslam Salah (left) and Abdelhamid Abaaoud

An AP correspondent described hearing seven blasts that sounded like grenades detonating.

It was not immediately clear if some of those explosions were the result of stun grenades used by security forces in counterterrorism operations.

Shortly before noon, more than seven hours after the raid began, French officials said the operation had been completed.

But shops and schools in Saint-Denis were closed for the day and residents were being advised by the mayor to remain indoors.

Islamic State (IS) militants said they carried out the November 13 attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350.

Before the November 18 raid began, authorities had said that at least eight people were directly involved in the November 13 attacks -- including six who detonated suicide vests and one who died in a police shootout.

Officials now say surveillance video has revealed a possible ninth assailant.

As the European dragnet widened for those complicit in the Paris attacks, France and Russia has unleashed a new wave of air strikes against IS targets in Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 33 Islamic State fighters have been killed by French air strikes in and around Raqqa -- the main stronghold of IS militants in Syria.

France had been carrying out air strikes against IS militants in Syria in the past but has intensified its attacks since the November 13 IS terrorist attacks in and around Paris.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier began operations in the eastern Mediterranean region on November 18 and that 36 French warplanes are now deployed in the region for attacks against IS militants.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start cooperating with the French military on operations in Syria.

His order came as Russian long-range bombers fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

IS militants have positions in Aleppo Province, while the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front militant group is in Idlib.

French spolice stop and search a local resident as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris, on November 18.

French spolice stop and search a local resident as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris, on November 18.

Moscow has vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up a Russian passenger plane over Egypt on October 31, killing 224 people, mostly Russian tourists. IS militants have claimed responsibility for that downing.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said the raid in Saint-Denis proved France was at "war against terrorism."

Speaking on November 18 at a gathering of French mayors, Hollande, however, warned against overreacting to the attacks.

"We must be implacable against all forms of violence. No xenophobic, anti-Semite, anti-Muslim act must be tolerated," he said.

Hollande added that "France will remain the country of liberty, of movements, of culture."

"What would our country be without its cafes, concerts, sport events, museums?" he asked.

Hollande is due to travel to Washington and Moscow next week to discuss the fight against IS.

Hours after he spoke, a teacher at a Jewish school in the southern French city of Marseilles was stabbed by three people professing support for Islamic State, but his life was not in danger.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Standing with Hollande at the Elysee Palace on November 17, Kerry said the carnage in Paris, along with recent deadly terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Turkey, made it clear that more pressure must be brought to bear on extremists.

He said a cease-fire between Syria's government and the opposition could be just weeks away, describing it as potentially a "gigantic step" toward deeper international cooperation.

France also reached out to its European Union partners for help, invoking a never-before-used treaty article obliging members of the 28-nation bloc to help a member state that is victim to armed aggression.

"Every country said, I am going to assist, I am going to help," said Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defense minister.

In the German city of Hannover, an exhibition soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled at the last minute and the stadium evacuated by police because of a bomb threat.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials had been scheduled to attend the game as a sign of defiance to the terrorists.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, The Guardian, The New York Times, BBC, Bloomberg, dpa, France24, and Liberation
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