Two killed in fierce Paris police raid
PARIS: A woman blew herself up and a suspected jihadist was killed yesterday in a massive police assault in Paris targeting the possible mastermind of France’s worst-ever terror attacks. Gunfire and explosions rocked the Saint-Denis area in the north of the city, near the Stade de France stadium, from before dawn as terrified residents were evacuated or told to stay home. After a siege lasting several hours between security forces and a group of people holed up in an apartment, heavily armed police arrested seven people. Five police officers suffered minor injuries.
Elite police were seen hauling away a naked suspect in the streets near where three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium at the start of Friday’s attacks. After the raid, white-suited forensic experts swarmed the building where the windows appeared to have blasted out, as police tried to verify if Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, had been inside.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said a probe into the attacks had allowed police “to obtain telephonic surveillance and witness testimony which led us to believe that Abaaoud was likely to be in an... apartment in Saint-Denis”. However, Molins said it was too early to say if he was among those arrested or killed. Some of the survivors of the assault had tried to hide in the rubble of the badly damaged building, the prosecutor said.
A source close to the investigation said the dead woman might have been Abaaoud’s cousin, while the Washington Post quoted senior intelligence officials as saying Abaaoud himself had died in the shootout. Molins said none of the bodies had been identified, adding only that Abaaoud was not amongst those detained.
Abaaoud is an Islamic State fighter who was previously thought to be in Syria after fleeing raids in his native Belgium earlier this year.
Residents of the Paris suburb, some of whom were evacuated in their underwear, said they had been caught in a terrifying exchange of fire. Hayat, 26, had been leaving a friend’s apartment where she had spent the night when the shots erupted. “I heard gunfire,” she said. “I could have been hit by a bullet. I never thought terrorists could have hidden here.”
“We could see bullets flying and laser beams out of the window. There were explosions. You could feel the whole building shake,” said Sabrine, a downstairs neighbor from the apartment that was raided. She told Europe 1 radio that she heard the people above her talking to each other, running around and reloading their guns. Another local, Sanoko Abdulai, said that as the operation gathered pace, a young woman detonated an explosion. “She had a bomb, that’s for sure. The police didn’t kill her, she blew herself up...,” he told Reuters, without giving details. Three police officers and a passerby were injured in the assault. A police dog was also killed.
A man arrested during the assault told AFP he had loaned his apartment to two people from Belgium as a favor to a friend. “A friend asked me to put up two of his friends for a few days,” Jawad Bendaoud said. “I said that there was no mattress, they told me ‘it’s not a problem’, they just wanted water and to pray,” Bendaoud said before being handcuffed and led away by police.
Until yesterday morning, officials had said Abaaoud was in Syria. He grew up in Brussels, but media said he moved to Syria in 2014 to fight with Islamic State. Since then he has travelled back to Europe at least once and was involved in a series of planned attacks in Belgium foiled by the police last January. Two police sources and a source close to the investigation told Reuters that the St. Denis cell was planning a fresh attack. “This new team was planning an attack on La Defense,” one source said, referring to a high-rise neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris that is home to top banks and businesses.
Seven jihadists were killed or blew themselves up in Friday’s attacks on the stadium, a concert hall, bars and restaurants that were claimed by the Islamic State group operating in Iraq and Syria. All of those killed in the attack have now been identified, the government said. Police are hunting for two other individuals, including 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, suspected of taking part in the attacks with his suicide-bomber brother Brahim. In Belgium, where some of the attackers lived, it emerged prosecutors had questioned the two Abdeslam brothers before the attacks “but they had showed no signs of being a potential threat”.
The attacks are unprecedented in France, which was shaken to its core for the second time in a year after 17 people were shot dead by jihadists at Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in January. President Francois Hollande praised security forces for their role in the “particularly perilous and taxing” operation which he said proved France was involved in a “war against terrorism”. Hollande told a gathering of mayors that municipal police would be given more weapons and equipment. But he urged the nation not to “give in to fear” or excessive reactions in the wake of the attacks. “No anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim act can be tolerated,” he said.
Meanwhile, the body representing Muslims in France said it would ask all 2,500 mosques in the country to condemn “all forms of violence or terrorism” at Friday prayers. France is still under a state of emergency which lawmakers are likely to vote to extend. — Agencies
People gather at the Place de la Republique Square on Tuesday in Paris to pay tribute to victims of the attacks claimed by Islamic State which killed at least 129 people and left more than 350 injured on Nov 13. — AFP