Saint-Denis raid one of 118 French anti-terror searches

French soldiers secure the area after shots were exchanged in Saint-Denis. (Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

French soldiers secure the area after shots were exchanged in Saint-Denis. (Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

Two people died on Wednesday and seven were detained when police raided the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis in an attempt to capture the alleged mastermind of last week’s terrorist attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

UPDATE: The body of the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has been identified among those killed in a police raid, the prosecutor’s office said Thursday.

“Abdelhamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified… as having been killed during the raid” in a northern Paris suburb on Wednesday, the prosecutor said in a statement.

The raid was one of 118 searches conducted overnight.

The dead included a female suicide bomber who set off her explosive vest shortly after the police assault started at 4.20am, French prosecutor Francois Molins said.

The body of a man was found later. He had been hit by “projectiles” and grenades, said Molins.

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

Overnight searches
The French police carried out 118 searches overnight as part of stepped-up efforts to combat terrorism and crime, said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

It was the third night in a row that such searches were carried out as part of the state of emergency instituted after last week’s Paris terrorist attacks. Overnight, 25 people were taken into custody for questioning and 34 weapons seized, Cazeneuve says.

Over the past three nights, 414 searches were carried out, with 60 people detained and 75 weapons seized, he added.
Drugs were also recovered during the operations.

“These operations will continue,” Cazeneuve said, underlining the French government’s “total determination ... to fight relentlessly against terrorism and against all threats to public order”.

Saint-Denis raid
The Saint-Denis 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 man who provided the flat to the suspects, Molins said.

He was told 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.

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.

Residents
Psychological support will be provided to residents, along with shelter for those who were evacuated, said municipal councillor Zaia Boujillas 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’s historical centre, 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.

Stade de France stadium
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, according to French media.

Belgian and French police have been searching since 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 have been a ninth attacker, according to AFP.

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

It presented new legislation on Wednesday that would keep France’s state of emergency in place for three months. The measure will be taken up by Parliament on Thursday and the Senate on Friday, said government spokesperson and minister Stephane Le Foll.

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

He fought alongside Isis in Syria and was notoriously recorded in a 2014 video driving a car dragging mutilated bodies. He is suspected of having masterminded a foiled plot to kill police officers in Belgium in January. – News24.com

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