Suspected architect Abdelhamid Abaaoud of the Paris attacks is dead, according to two senior intelligence officials



Suspected architect Abdelhamid Abaaoud of the Paris attacks is dead, according to two senior intelligence officials

Gunfire broke out in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis early on Nov. 18 as police pursued suspects from the terror attacks on Nov. 13. Witnesses documented the flood of police into the historic suburb as the raid grew. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
French police commandos descended upon a Paris apartment on Wednesday in a pre-dawn raid aimed at snaring the alleged ringleader of last week’s deadly terrorist attacks, triggering a firefight that left two suspects dead and underscored France’s vulnerability despite a widening crackdown.
A woman triggered a suicide blast when police stormed the apartment in Saint-Denis, a diverse area just north of Paris, and another suspect died, both part of a cell that authorities said may have been plotting another attack around Paris just five days after the coordinated attacks that left at least
129 people dead and over 300 wounded.
It was not immediately clear whether the massive raid snared the most-wanted figures linked to the Paris bloodshed, a Belgian militant who fought with the Islamic State in Syria and boasted he could elude Western intelligence. Seven suspects were arrested in the operation, which lasted seven hours, including two suspects arrested who were found “hiding in rubble” created by explosions during the raid.
Five days after the worst violence on French soil since World War II, European nations remained on edge, enhancing vigilance against possible attacks by Islamist militants who have promised to bring the brutal tactics employed in Iraq and Syria to the West.
President Francois Hollande, seeking to reassure French citizens unnerved by the bloodshed on the streets of Paris, said the attacks would not alter the French way of life.
“We are at war against terrorism, terrorism which declared war on us,” Holland said at a meeting of French maoyors. “It is the [Islamic State] jihadist organization. It has an army. It has financial resources. It has oil. It has a territory.
“It has allies in Europe, including in our country,” he continued, “with young, radicalized Islamist people. It committed atrocities there and wants to kill here. It has killed here.”
On Thursday he renewed his case for an extension to a state of emergency decreed after the attacks and also for changes to the constitution that he said would make France safer.
When Wednesday’s raid began, heavily armed police clad in military gear - some with their faces covered by balaclavas - moved quickly through the dark streets, while helicopters scanned the streets from the skies. For hours, traffic and public transportation were halted, and schools were shuttered.
Uthayaseelan Sanmugan, a 38-year-old cook who lives near the targeted apartment, said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of gunfire, went to his window and saw the lights of weapon lasers outside.
 
What we know so far about who carried out the Paris attacks View Graphic
“When I got to the street, I saw a lot of blood on the sidewalk. The blood of the terrorists.”
Residents were instructed to stay inside their homes.
“I heard gunshots, and, sometime around 7 a.m., a huge blast, an explosion,” said Kelly Ovo, a 45-year-old day laborer who lives close to the apartment under siege.
French police reported that Diesel, a 7-year-old police dog, was “killed by the terrorists” in the raid.
After Wednesday’s raid, forensic experts combed through the aftermath, including blown-out windows and floors collapsed by explosions, presumably seeking DNA and other evidence.
Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters that the operation was launched after authorities had received information - potentially tips or intelligence information - that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who officials believe was a key figure in planning the attacks, was possible in the area. But he did not immediately confirm whether Abaaoud was killed or apprehended in the attack.
Molins is due to address the press again at 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. Eastern time).
Abaaoud, an ardent Islamic State supporter linked to several other terrorist attempts, was believed to be in Syria earlier this year. But some officials speculate he could have returned to Europe, perhaps passing undetected among the flood of asylum seekers pouring into Greek islands from Turkey.
The siege appeared to have been aided by another potential breakthrough in the probe: the discovery of a mobile phone in a garbage can near the Bataclan Concert Hall, the site of one of Friday’s assaults.
The phone’s data contained a map of the music venue, French media reported, along with a chilling text message sent shortly after the first gunmen entered: “Let’s go, we’re starting.”
The information on the mobile phone opened fresh leads, including to an apartment southeast of Paris in Alfortville, according to Mediapart, a French news outlet.
According to two police officials and an investigator close to the investigation, the raid may also have disrupted plans to stage an attack just west of Paris in the La Defense, an important financial district northwest of Paris. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
The hunt for suspects in Friday’s attacks, which took place at a concert hall, several bars and restaurants, and a soccer match, French officials cast a wide net for potential suspects. Across France, 118 additional raids were conducted overnight on Tuesday, with at least 25 arrests. That brought to 414 the total number of raids launched throughout France since Friday’s attack, the Interior Ministry said.
If Abaaoud is in France, it would amount to a startling turn of events and would suggest that the high-profile figure of the Islamic State chased by European intelligence had managed to slip into France from the battlefields of Syria.
The key figure has eluded attempts to apprehend him, including in January when authorities staged an operation to arrest him in Athens. He has appeared in Islamic State propaganda videos and recruited his 13-year-old brother. A Belgian of Moroccan descent, he was raised in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, a largely Muslim area that has become one of the world’s main breeding grounds of violent Islamist extremists.
After Friday’s assaults, which laid bare the shortcomings of European intelligence agencies’ ability to prevent militant attacks, officials across the continent have remained on high alert.
In Copenhagen, a terminal at the city’s international airport was briefly evacuated after “an overheard conversation about a bomb,” police said in a Twitter post. The terminal was later reopened.
Countries including Sweden and Italy raised terror alerts. Extra security was posted in St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis addressed pilgrims.
French authorities, meanwhile, issued a pan-European bulletin asking people to watch for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Salah Abdeslam, a French militant also accused of having a direct role in the attacks, the Spanish news site El Español reported Wednesday.
On Tuesday, authorities in Hanover, Germany, abruptly called off a friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands that Chancellor Angela Merkel had planned to attend. One target of Friday’s attacks was a friendly soccer match between France and Germany at a crowded stadium north of Paris - not far from the Saint-Denis raids. No explosives were found at the German site.
In Brussels, another soccer match between Belgium and Spain was also canceled Tuesday.
But France’s secretary of sport, Thierry Braillard, said soccer matches around the country will go ahead as planned. “Life must go on,” he told the sports newspaper L’Equipe. German officials said soccer matches would be played as scheduled as well.
In a measure of French concerns, the country on Tuesday invoked for the first time a European Union mutual aid pact that calls for members of the bloc to assist other member states if they are attacked.
France continued air strikes Tuesday night against Islamic State targets in Syria, a significant escalation to its military participation in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State. Also on Wednesday, France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, embarked from Toulon port en route to the eastern Mediterranean, where its fighter jets will take part in operations against the militant group.
A woman triggered a suicide blast Wednesday as more than 100 police and soldiers stormed a building north of Paris, acting on tips that the suspected ringleader of last week’s bloodshed could be hiding in the tense French capital.
It was not immediately clear whether the massive raid snared any of the most-wanted figures linked to the Paris bloodshed — including a Belgian militant who had boasted he could slip easily between Europe and the Islamic State strongholds in Syria.
Forsenic experts combed through the aftermath — blown-out windows, floors collapsed by explosions — presumably seeking DNA and other evidence.
But the seven-hour siege also left no doubt that other potential threats remained.
As security forces closed in, the woman set off the blast — possibly an explosive-rigged vest or belt — after opening fire. Soon after, a police helicopter spotted a man trying to escape as he fired at police. Sharpshooters killed him, authorities said.
In addition to the two dead, police arrested at least seven people before the showdown was over in the historic heart of the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, a teeming quarter with a large immigrant population.
Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters that the operation was launched after authorities had received information that the suspected overseer of the Paris carnage, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was perhaps in the area.
It also potentially disrupted plans to stage an attack just west of Paris in La Defense business district, about 10 miles from Saint-Denis, two police officials and an investigator close to the investigation said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief news media.
 
 
Remembering the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris View Graphic
There was no immediate comment from French authorities.
Abaaoud, raised in a hardscrabble district of Brussels, was believed to be in Syria earlier this year. But some officials speculate he could have returned to Europe, perhaps passing undetected among the flood of asylum seekers pouring into Greek islands from Turkey.
Abaaoud is seen as the “guru” of Friday’s deadly attacks at a stadium, concert hall and bars and restaurants in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350 others.
Molins did not confirm that Abaaoud was present at the raid site, and French officials gave no immediate details on the dead or captured. Two of the suspects arrested were found “hiding in rubble” from explosions, authorities said.
The siege unfolded as police scored another potential breakthrough in the probe: the discovery of a cellphone in a garbage can near the Bataclan Concert Hall, the site of one of Friday’s assaults.
The phone’s data contained a map of the music venue, French media reported, along with a chilling text message sent shortly after the first gunmen entered: “Let’s go, we’re starting.”
The information on the mobile phone opened fresh leads, including to an apartment southeast of Paris in Alfortville, according to Mediapart, a French news outlet.
Across France, 118 raids were conducted, with at least 25 arrests. That brought to 414 the total number of raids launched throughout France since Friday’s attack, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
In his latest address to the country, French President François Hollande again cast the fight against Islamist militants in terms of a new kind of warfare that requires the West and others to unite. Hours earlier, France launched another round of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.
“We are at war against terrorism, terrorism which declared war on us,” Holland said. “It is the [Islamic State] jihadist organization. It has an army. It has financial resources. It has oil. It has a territory.
“It has allies in Europe, including in our country,” he continued, “with young, radicalized Islamist people. It commits atrocities there and wants to kill here. It has killed here.”
In Saint-Denis, Uthayaseelan Sanmugan, a 38-year-old cook who lives near the targeted apartment, said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of gunfire, went to his window and saw the lights of weapon lasers outside.
“When I got to the street, I saw a lot of blood on the sidewalk. The blood of the terrorists.”
Heavily armed police clad in military gear — some with their faces covered by balaclavas — moved quickly as the operation unfolded. Roads were sealed. Public transportation was cut. Helicopters scanned the streets from the skies.
“I heard gunshots, and, sometime around 7 a.m., a huge blast, an explosion,” said Kelly Ovo, a 45-year-old day laborer who lives close to the apartment under siege.
“My wife and I left the apartment to take refuge in the street because we did not feel safe anymore.”
“Stay inside your home. #explosion #assault,” tweeted local resident Becca Assouline.
French police reported that Diesel, a 7-year-old police dog, was “killed by the terrorists” in the raid.
If Abaaoud is in France, it would amount to a startling turn of events and would suggest that the high-profile figure of the Islamic State chased by European intelligence had managed to slip into France from the battlefields of Syria.
The key figure has eluded attempts to apprehend him, including in January when authorities staged an operation to arrest him in Athens. He has appeared in Islamic State propaganda videos and recruited his 13-year-old brother. A Belgian of Moroccan descent, he was raised in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, a largely Muslim area that has become one of the world’s main breeding grounds of violent Islamist extremists.
Across Europe, security forces were on high alert.
In Copenhagen, a terminal at the city’s international airport was briefly evacuated after “an overheard conversation about a bomb,” police said in a Twitter post. The terminal was later reopened.
Countries including Sweden and Italy raised terror alerts. Extra security was posted in St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis addressed pilgrims
French authorities, meanwhile, issued a pan-European bulletin asking people to watch for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Salah Abdeslam, a French militant also accused of having a direct role in the attacks, the Spanish news site El Español reported Wednesday.
On Tuesday, authorities in Hanover, Germany, abruptly called off a friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands that Chancellor Angela Merkel had planned to attend. One target of Friday’s attacks was a friendly soccer match between France and Germany at a crowded stadium north of Paris — not far from the Saint-Denis raids. No explosives were found at the German site.
In Brussels, another soccer match between Belgium and Spain was also canceled Tuesday.
But France’s secretary of sport, Thierry Braillard, said soccer matches around the country will go ahead as planned. “Life must go on,” he told the sports newspaper L’Equipe. German officials said soccer matches would be played as scheduled as well.
In a measure of French concerns, the country on Tuesday invoked for the first time a European Union ­mutual aid pact that calls for members of the bloc to assist other member states if they are attacked.
Also Tuesday, Russia conducted a “significant” number of strikes on Raqqa, possibly using sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Russian operation. Those strikes follow the Russian government’s assessment that explosives brought down an airliner full of Russian tourists over Egypt last month. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
Deane reported from London. Virgilie Demoutier, Emily Badger and Karla Adam in Paris, and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.


CULLED FROM WASHINGTONPOST