SAINT-DENIS, France: Amid gunfire and explosions, police raided a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind of last week’s attacks was believed to be holed up on Wednesday. The siege ended with two deaths and seven arrests but no clear information on the fugitive’s fate.
The dead were a woman who blew herself up with an explosive vest and a man hit by projectiles and grenades, the Paris prosecutor said at the end of the seven-hour siege in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the raid was launched after information from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated that the suspected planner of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, might be in a safe house in the district.
Authorities could not immediately confirm whether Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamic State militant, was killed or arrested Wednesday morning.
Investigators have identified 27-year-old Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday’s attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and injured 350 others.
A US official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an Islamic State external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.
Abaaoud was believed to be in Syria after a January police raid in Belgium, but bragged in Islamic State propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.
Speaking at the scene of Wednesday’s raid, Molins said the operation began with a pre-dawn shootout and resulted in the capture of three people inside the apartment, the death of a woman who set off an explosive charge, and the death of “another terrorist … who was hit by projectiles and grenades” in the initial assault.
He said two people were detained while trying to hide in the rubble, and two others were also arrested, including the man who had provided the apartment and one of his acquaintances. Police at the scene were seen escorting away one man who was naked from the waist down, and another wrapped in a gold emergency blanket.
“As things stand, it is impossible to give you the identities of the people detained, which are being verified,” Molins said. “All will be done to determine who is who, and based on the work of forensic police, we’ll tell you who was in the apartment — and what consequences it will have for the development of the investigation.”
Molins and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve did not specify whether any suspects might still be at large.