French police surrounded an apartment north of Paris on Wednesday in the hunt for the supposed mastermind behind the Paris attacks, impeding seven people and leaving two dead. One of them a woman, suspected the cousin of the ‘Mastermind’, blew herself up with a suicide vest.
David Chazan is at the scene in Saint-Denis
I’m behind police lines beside the Saint-Denis de l’Estrée church. Police have sealed off the area around a flat they raided earlier this morning as they hunt for the suspected mastermind of Friday’s attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
Shops are shuttered and no cars are being allowed into the area. Most local residents are obeying the order to stay at home but dozens of young men have gathered near the police cordon to observe the action.
“It’s as if war has come to our neighbourhood,” said Mohamed Diallo, 22. “It’s like a siege. People haven’t gone to work and everyone is keeping the children at home.”
People here were woken up by bursts of automatic gunfire around 4-30 this morning as forces of the elite police unit RAID besieged a flat in Saint-Denis.
Later explosions were heard, apparently from grenades. A police source told the Telegraph the suspects shot at police when they tried to enter the flat.
A woman was the first to open fire, the source said, before blowing herself up with a suicide belt. At least one other suspect has also been killed, and there are reports that a third may also have died.
Two police officers have minor injuries. No gunfire or explosions for more than two hours.
Key points from press conference
- Francois Molins says eight people arrested after Saint-Denis raids, and at least two suspects killed.
- He did not confirm the Washington Post’s two intelligence sources who claims that Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Salah Abdeslam were killed in this morning’s raid in the north of Paris. Their deaths have reportedly been confirmed by forensics analysis.
- Security forces discovered a ‘total war arsenal’ in the Saint-Denis apartment.
- French security forces fired 5,000 rounds in the massive operation this morning.
- French police uncovered a second terrorist cell in the days since Friday’s attack that was “ready to act” and “neutralised” it.
A man claiming to be the occupant of the apartment raided by police on Rue du Corbillon, was interviewed on French news channel BFMTV near the scene.
“I didn’t know they were terrorists,” the man said. “I was asked to put up two people for three days, I did a favor.” The man and one of his acquaintances were detained by police.
At 11:45 a.m., government spokesman Stéphane le Foll declared the raid was over.
“The police that undertook the operation knew the dangers. But they probably underestimated the violence they were met with,” French President François Hollandesaid after the raid. He had earlier attended a cabinet minister at the Élysée Palace with Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve.
Police on Wednesday said Mr. Abdeslam was fined €70 after police found a small quantity of “drugs” during a roadside check in February. He was accompanied by one of his brothers and another man while they were traveling to Belgium, police said.
“The names of Mr. Abdeslam and his companions, who were traveling in a Belgium-registered car, were carefully checked but they didn’t show up in the police records at the time.”
“On Sept. 9, Mr. Abdeslam was stopped and questioned upon entering Austria from Germany by car with two other men. Mr. Abdeslam said he was on his way to a one-week vacation in Austria, Austrian authorities said Tuesday.”