Saint Denis – “Another terrorist team has been neutralized,” affirmed on Wednesday Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, after an hour-long violent raid that left at least two dead and 8 arrested in Saint-Denis suburb, France. The pre-dawn operation, conducted by heavily armed police squads, was aiming to capture Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian ISIS militant considered the mastermind of the Paris attacks occurred last Friday night. The bodies have not been identified, but Molins informed the attack planner was not among the 8 under arrest.
The assault began at 4:20 a.m. Wednesday (10:20 p.m. ET Tuesday).
“We have reason to believe given their weaponry, given their structured organization and their determination, this commando cell could have moved to act”, the prosecutor declared, suggesting the terror cell could have been ready for another attack.
A couple of hours later, Reuters reported that, according to three sources, the terror cell’s target was the French capital’s La Defense business district, including the oil major Total and the main trading room of Societe Generale bank. The attack was set for Thursday.
Molins said French officials found two bodies after an explosion, which they believe it was caused by a woman who detonated a suicide vest. He explained that the floor of the apartment where the raid occurred collapsed and the bodies have not yet been identified because of their condition. Therefore, it remains unclear if Abaaoud was killed in the raid.
French police arrived at Saint-Denis after receiving witnesses’ tips on Monday that Abaaoud, responsible for several other ISIS attacks in Europe, was staying at an apartment located in the neighborhood. A discarded mobile phone and tapped telephone conversations also helped find the apartment, located less than a mile from the Stade de France, where three suicide bombings took place last Friday night.
About 110 police started by going directly to one apartment that had been under surveillance since Tuesday, which then led them to another apartment located on the same street. They attacked it with grenades, assault rifles, and snipers, and fired almost 5,000 bullets in total.
Under the eight under arrest figures local resident Jawad Ben Dow, who told Reuters the terror cell had centered on his apartment. He argued that someone had asked him to put two people up for only three days and he accepted, thinking he was doing him a favor. Ben Dow claimed he had not known they were terrorists. A woman who he shares the apartment with, was also arrested and both are being interrogated.
A spokesman of Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told local media that Abdelhamid Abaaoud had probably been in the apartment that morning. The Belgian escaped to Syria in January after a police raid that took place in Belgium, but he has proven his ability to move between Europe and Syria undetected. Molins said on Wednesday that he was thought to have recently returned from Raqqa and established on Ben Dow’s apartment in Saint-Denis. However, it’s not yet clear if he was there during the French police assault.
French President Francois Hollande proposed extending his country’s state of emergency for three more months, which will empower authorities to carry on major operations to dissolve certain groups across France. In the past three days, French officials have arrested 60 suspects and put 118 under house arrest. They have also seized 75 weapons. Next week Hollande will meet U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the next moves against the Islamic State.
ISIS released on Wednesday a video to warn of an attack on New York. The video shows an explosive device as it is put together, as well as a bomber zipping his jacket over a suicide belt.
Source: NBC News