Two killed in fierce Paris po­lice raid

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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

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