French police commandos killed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, in a massive pre-dawn raid at Saint-Denis, two senior European intelligence officials said, after investigators followed leads that the fugitive militant was holed up north of the French capital and could be plotting another wave of violence, Washington Post reports.
The seven-hour special operation involving more than 100 police and military personnel came after a source with knowledge of the investigation said a cell phone had been found with a map of the music venue targeted in one of the attacks and a text message on it saying words to the effect of “let’s go”.
The source said the phone was found in a dustbin near the Bataclan concert hall where the bloodiest of the shootings took place.
Paris prosecutor François Molins, speaking to reporters hours after the siege, said Abaaoud had “entrenched himself on the third floor” of the apartment building.
Molins said he could not yet provide the identities of the two people who died at the scene, but he added that neither Abaaoud nor another wanted suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was among a total of eight people who were detained at the apartment and other locations Wednesday.
Two senior European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Abaaoud was killed in the raid.
However, local French news agencies did not say anything about the fate of Abaaoud.
A woman, who was said to be Abaaoud’s cousin, blew herself up using the suicide vest. Eight people were arrested in the raid.
IS militants were planning an attack on the French capital’s La Defense business district, police said.
“Nobody has been able to enter the building, which was under siege, so forensic police have not started their work,” Molins said.
While police have lifted the cordon around the scene of the morning’s stand-off, a tighter cordon is still in place around the actual block of flats where forensics teams and investigators continue their work.
Up until Tuesday morning, it was assumed Abaaoud was at his base in Syria from where he allegedly ordered and organised the attacks on Paris.
Earlier, French TV stations BFMTV and iTele both showed amateur video of Wednesday’s early morning shooting and cited witnesses in the area as saying they had heard sporadic gunfire from around 4:30 am.
Residents of Saint-Denis confirmed they were awakened by an exchange of gunfire around 4.30 am.
They are not being allowed back into their homes inside the police cordon. Residents were told to stay inside and close shutters and windows.
“I was awakened by explosions that lasted about 15-20 minutes,” one resident told Le Monde. “From our window, we could see lights [that looked] like gunfire… Then helicopters landed on the roofs.”
“There are men from RAID [Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence unit] shooting from the rooftops,” Djihane, a resident, told France Inter radio, referring to France’s equivalent of SWAT squads. “We’ve been told to lie on the floor and not go to the windows.”
One woman, Sabrine, was just below the terrorists’ apartment when the assault began.
She told Le Parisien: “I was woken at about four in the morning by gunfire. I lay down on the floor with my baby. It was awful.
“I heard the explosions, dozens of gunshots. My ceiling began to collapse, there was dust everywhere.
“My baby was gripping on to me when he heard the guns go off. It was never-ending.”
She was lying on the floor for about two-and-a-half hours by the time she was evacuated.
BFMTV said some police had been wounded during the operation, which took place near the Stade de France sports stadium where three suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts and killed a passer-by Friday.
Don’t know anything: flat-owner
Jawad Ben Dow, who was detained by police in Saint Denis during the raid, said he had been asked to accommodate two people for a few days as a favour.
He told BFMTV: “I found out that it’s at my house, and that the people are holed up at my flat. I didn’t know they were terrorists. Someone asked me to put two people up for three days and I did them a favour, it’s normal. I don’t know where they came from, I don’t know anything.”
“If I’d known do you think I’d have done it,” he said.
‘Everyone is afraid’
Mohamed, 20, student, who lives 50 meters from the scene of Friday’s explosions, told The Local:: “I’m shocked. This is my town. There are so many innocent people here. The attacks were a tragedy but this hits very close to home because I live here. This is my home. This is so far from normal for us we’ve never seen anything like it.
“I heard the big bang at 6am and a friend called me soon after and said there’s been an explosion near the church. I turned on the TV immediately and saw the soldiers, the army. It’s shocking”.
Another man in his 20s said:”We have been standing here since the first explosions. Everyone is shocked. It was so loud, so intense. We eat here. We go dancing here. Everyone is afraid.”
Schools and colleges in the center of Saint-Denis will stay closed for the day, an official from the prefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis said.