2 dead, 7 held in raid for Paris attack mastermind

2015-11-18 15:31
A French soldier takes up position in Saint-Denis, Paris. (Peter Dejong, AP)

A French soldier takes up position in Saint-Denis, Paris. (Peter Dejong, AP)

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Paris - Two people died on Wednesday and seven were detained when police raided a northern Paris suburb in an attempt to capture the alleged mastermind of last week's terrorist attacks.

The dead included a female suicide bomber who set off her explosive vest shortly after the police assault started at 04:20, French prosecutor Francois Molins said.

The body of a man was also later found. He was hit by "projectiles" and grenades, Molins said.

It was not immediately clear if the alleged mastermind, 28-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was among the dead or the seven people who were detained during the raid in the Saint-Denis suburb. The suspects have yet to be identified, according to Molins.

"All will be done to determine who is who," he said during a visit to the scene once the massive police operation ended after more than seven hours.

Surveillance, phone conversations and witness statements led police to believe that Abaaoud could be in the apartment, Molins said.

The Belgian of Moroccan origin is suspected of having planned the shootings and bombings that left at least 129 people dead and 352 injured in Paris on Friday.

Abaaoud fought alongside ISIS in Syria and was notoriously recorded in a 2014 video driving a car dragging mutilated bodies. He is also suspected of having masterminded a foiled plot to kill police officers in Belgium in January.

Belgian and French police

The raid featured heavy gunfire and explosions. Five officers from a special operations unit were lightly injured in the raid, while a police dog was killed by the suspects, France's National Police wrote on Twitter.

The seven taken into custody include three people found in the targeted apartment, two people hiding in rubble and the person who provided the flat to the suspects, Molins said.

He was told that two people from Belgium would be using the apartment, described as a squat and did not know they were "terrorists," the man told AFP news agency before being taken into custody.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised the police forces for intervening in an "extremely courageous" way. They faced gunfire for many hours, in conditions that "they had until now never encountered," he said.

President Francois Hollande described the operation as "particularly dangerous", in a speech before mayors.

Psychological support will be provided to residents, along with shelter for those who were evacuated, municipal councillor Zaia Boujillas told dpa in Saint-Denis.

Thousands of people were stuck in their apartments during the operation, with 15 000 to 20 000 people estimated to live in Saint-Denis' historical centre, the newspaper Le Parisien quoted deputy mayor Stephane Peu as saying.

Around 15 people, including children, were evacuated out of the targeted building, he said.

Boujillas expected police barriers to be lifted by early afternoon.

The area of the raid is close to the Stade de France football stadium, which was targeted along with the Bataclan concert hall, restaurants and cafes during on Friday's attacks.

Seven assailants died in that violence. Two more suspects may be on the run, French media reported.

Belgian and French police have been searching since on Sunday for 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, a Frenchman and Belgium resident whose brother was among the dead assailants.

An unidentified man who has been spotted in footage of a car carrying the Abdeslam brothers may also have been a ninth attacker, AFP wrote.

Paris investigators are still working on identifying all of the attackers who died. The 129 victims in Friday's attacks have, for their part, all been identified, the French government said.

It presented on Wednesday new legislation that would keep France's state of emergency in place for three months. The measure will be taken up by the parliament on Thursday and the Senate on Friday, government spokesperson and minister Stephane Le Foll was quoted as saying by AFP.

Read more on:    belgium  |  france  |  paris under attack

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