Police raid targets suspected mastermind
SAINT-DENIS, France — A senior French police official said a large police operation north of Paris early today targeted the suspected mastermind of last week's attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
The official says authorities believe Abaaoud was holed up in an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, along with up to five other heavily armed people.
The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to police rules but is informed routinely about the operation, says that scores of police who stormed the building early today were met with unexpectedly violent resistance. Reinforcements were summoned and several people were injured.
It was unclear whether there were injuries among the suspects.
Two officials said the police operation was connected to the investigation into Friday's gun and bomb attacks that killed 129 people.
Police vans and fire trucks rushed to the scene in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. The site is less than two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Stade de France stadium, which was targeted by three suicide bombers during Friday's attacks.
Police cordoned off the area nearby, including a pedestrian zone lined with shops and 19th-century apartment buildings. Riot police cleared people from the streets, pointing guns at curious residents to move them off the roads.
Saint Denis Mayor Didier Paillard said public transport was suspended and that schools in the center of town would not open today.
A resident said an explosion shook the neighborhood at about 4 a.m. local time
"Then there was second big explosion. Then two more explosions. There was an hour of gunfire," said Baptiste Marie, a 26-year-old independent journalist who lives in the neighborhood.
Another witness, Amin Guizani, said he heard the sound of grenades and automatic gunfire.
Meanwhile, France and Russia unleashed a new wave of airstrikes against IS targets in Syria, while fears of further terror attacks deepened in Paris and beyond. The Eiffel Tower closed to the public just a day after it had reopened and a soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled due to a bomb threat just 90 minutes before kickoff.
Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for the Friday the 13th attacks that targeted France's national soccer stadium, a packed concert hall and popular restaurants and cafes in one of Paris' trendiest neighborhoods, killing 129 people and wounding more than 350.
French authorities had previously said that at least eight people were directly involved in the bloodshed Friday: seven who died in the attacks and one who got away and slipped across the border to Belgium. However, there have been gaps in officials' public statements, which have never fully disclosed how many attackers took part in the deadly rampage.
On Tuesday, officials disclosed to The Associated Press that they now believe at least one more attacker was involved than was previously known, and they were working to identify and track down that suspect. Three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details about the ongoing investigation.
A new surveillance video obtained by the AP indicated that a team of three attackers carried out the shootings at one of the cafes. The video was among evidence authorities used in concluding that at least one other attacker was at large, the French officials indicated.
The brief clip shot from a distance shows two black-clad gunmen with automatic weapons calmly firing on the bar then returning toward a waiting car, whose driver was maneuvering behind them. Authorities believe that car is the same black Spanish-made SEAT vehicle that was found abandoned Saturday with three Kalashnikovs inside. In the footage, as the gunmen fire their rifles, patrons can be seen falling down on the pavement as others dashed or crawled away. The encounter lasted only seconds.
Previously officials had not specified how many people were involved in the attack on the sidewalk bar on La Fontaine au Roi street, as well as the other night spots.
In all, six attackers died after detonating suicide belts and one was killed by police gunfire. A manhunt has been mounted for an eighth suspect, Salah Abdeslam, whom French police accidentally permitted to cross into Belgium on Saturday. One of his brothers, Brahim, was among the attackers who blew themselves up in Paris. Another brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, was arrested after the attacks but released. In an interview Tuesday with French TV station BFM, he urged his brother to turn himself in.
Two men arrested in Belgium, meanwhile, admitted driving to France to pick up Salah Abdeslam early Saturday, but denied any involvement in the attacks, their lawyers said.
Mohammed Amri, 27, and Hamza Attou, 21, are being held on charges of terrorist murder and conspiracy. Belgian media reported the two were being investigated as potential suppliers of the suicide bombs used in the attacks, since ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make explosives, was discovered in a search of their residence.
"They were shooting for an hour. Nonstop. There were grenades. It was going, stopping. Kalashnikovs. Starting again," Guizani said.
Seven attackers died in Friday's gun-and-bomb rampage through Paris that killed at least 129 people and left over 350 wounded. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage.
Police say they are hunting for two fugitives suspected of taking part as well as any accomplices.