2 terrorist suspects killed, 7 held after raid in Saint-Denis, officials say

Posted at 6:33 AM, Nov 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-18 09:27:12-05

A violent, hours-long operation in a Paris suburb ended Wednesday with two suspected terrorists dead, seven detained, new attacks potentially thwarted and further proof, according to French President Francois Hollande, that his country is “at war” with ISIS.

The Saint-Denis raid targeted the purported ringleader of last week’s bloody Paris attacks and came as the suspects were “about to move on some kind of operation,” according to police sources.

Latest developments:

• 8:36 a.m. ET: Turkish police detained eight ISIS-linked suspects who’d arrived at an Istanbul airport from Casablanca, Turkish police said Wednesday, according to the semi-official Anadolu news agency. The eight Moroccans said they had booked a hotel in Turkey and were preparing to head to Germany — via Greece, Serbia and Hungary — the report added, pointing to a document seized by police laying out the travel route.

• 7:43 a.m. ET: French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that he would propose a law to legislators to extend by three months the state of emergency that was declared after the Paris attacks. The state of emergency does restrict certain liberties but gives France the means to re-establish citizens’ liberty, Hollande said.

• 7:22 a.m. ET: Hollande said that what happened in Saint-Denis is further confirmation that “we are at war” with ISIS. He said terrorists were targeting France because of its values and place in the world. “Daesh (ISIS) has an army, financial resources, oil resources, and occupies a territory. It has accomplices in Europe. … It commits barbarous massacres,” Hollande said.

• 7:18 a.m. ET: The French President said that Wednesday’s raid in Saint-Denis aimed to “neutralize terrorists.” He lauded the police officers involved who might not have anticipated the violence they’d face, but nonetheless managed to carry out the operation.

• 6:56 a.m. ET: France’s Council of Ministers said in a statement Wednesday that authorities have finished identifying all 129 people killed in last week’s Paris attacks. More than 100 families have collected their loved ones’ remains, according to the council.

• 6:33 a.m. ET: Phone surveillance and testimony helped authorities determine that it was likely that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of last week’s Paris attacks, was in an apartment in Saint-Denis, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. He did not say whether Abaaoud was among the seven detained or two killed in Wednesday’s raid in the Paris suburb.

• 6:28 a.m. ET: Three people inside one apartment were arrested, one woman blew herself up and another suspected terrorist was killed, according to Molins. Four others, including the person who lent the apartment to the suspected terrorists and his friend, were also taken into custody.

• 6:17 a.m. ET: The Saint-Denis raid focused on two apartments on the same street, a Paris police source said. One of the raids led to the second raid, and one of the locations had been under surveillance since Tuesday, according to the source.

• 6:14 a.m. ET: Air France announced that someone phoned in “anonymous threats” after two of its flights from the United States destined for Paris had taken off. Those threats were later determined to be “false,” according to the airline.

• 5:46 a.m. ET: The police raid is over, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said.

• 5:24 a.m. ET: The number of terrorist suspects killed in the raid stands at two, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. A police source had earlier told CNN that three suspects were killed. Seven people have been arrested, including three men who were removed from inside the apartment, the prosecutor’s office said.

• 5:24 a.m. ET: The suspects targeted in Saint-Denis were “about to move on some kind of operation,” police sources told CNN, saying the raid was “right on time.”

• 4:48 a.m. ET: Five officers were lightly wounded and a police dog was killed in the raid, according to police.

• 3:07 a.m. ET: A female suspect killed herself at the scene by activating her suicide belt, the prosecutor’s office said.

• 2:16 a.m. ET: One of the terrorist suspects killed was shot by a police sniper, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported. The broadcaster also said a civilian passerby was killed during the operation, though this report later appeared to be unfounded. So, too, did a police source’s comments to CNN that three suspects had been killed.

• 1:32 a.m. ET: A series of explosions is heard in the area. The cause of the blasts wasn’t immediately clear.

Full story:

Gunfire and explosions shook the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis early Wednesday as heavily armed police stormed a building where suspects linked to Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks were believed to be holed up.

Police blocked off roads before dawn Wednesday and told residents to stay inside in Saint-Denis, a diverse, working-class area that is home to the Stade de France sports arena where three suicide bombings took place Friday.

The situation developed quickly over many hours, but by late morning in Paris, the French government said the siege was over.

Two terrorist suspects have been declared dead, one of them a woman who blew herself up with a suicide belt, according to authorities.

Seven other people were arrested, including three men who were removed from an apartment at the heart of the raid. Five police officers were lightly wounded and a police dog was killed during the operation.

The identities of the dead and detained suspects weren’t immediately clear.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, was one of the potential targets of the police raid, after phone surveillance and testimony led them to believe he might be in a Saint-Denis apartment.

But the official cautioned that French and Belgian authorities weren’t certain that Abaaoud — a Belgian ISIS member who was widely believed to have been in Syria recently — was at the location when they launched the raid. Authorities did not immediately say who was arrested or killed in the operation.

Resident: ‘I’m just worried about my child’

Schools were closed and public transportation was suspended in Saint-Denis as heavily armed police and soldiers flooded streets not far from the Basilica Cathedral, where many French monarchs’ remains are entombed.

A woman who was inside the building with her child during the raid described the terrifying situation.

“We could see the bullets,” the woman, who identified herself only as Sabrine, told CNN affiliate France 2. “We could feel the building shaking.”

Riad Moudache, a local resident, was stopped by police and told to evacuate as the raid unfolded. He rushed home to get his 3-year-old daughter.

“I’m just worried about my child,” he said. “My priority now is to protect her.”

Saadana Aymen, a 29-year-old who lives one street down from the site of the police operation, said he couldn’t believe what was happening in his neighborhood.

“When you think of Saint-Denis, you don’t think of terrorists,” he told CNN. “I’m shocked! Why would the terrorists pick this neighborhood?”

Authorities have been looking for the so-called “ninth suspect,” who may appear in a video recorded by a witness to the Paris attacks.

Police have been analyzing the video, which shows two gunmen inside a black car linked to the attacks and perhaps a third individual driving the car, French media reported.

Seven of the attackers were killed during the wave of violence Friday night, and an international arrest warrant is already out for one suspect, Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman. The identity of the possible ninth suspect is unknown.

Brother urges suspect to surrender

Abdeslam’s older brother has urged the suspect, who was last seen driving toward the Belgian border hours after the attacks, to turn himself over to authorities.

“I would tell him to surrender. That’s the best solution,” Mohamed Abdeslam told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Tuesday. “But of course, if he has something to do with it, he must accept responsibility.”

In their push to unravel the attack plot and the suspected network behind it, counterterrorism and intelligence officials say investigators have uncovered a clue that could be a big break: cell phones believed to belong to the attackers.

According to the officials, one of the phones contained a message, sent sometime before the attacks began, to the effect of: OK, we’re ready.

“It points to a sort of organization,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said, “an attempt to try to synchronize what was going down.”

But cracking into their communication won’t be easy.

Investigators have found encrypted apps on the phones, which appear to have left no trace of messages or any indication of who would have been receiving them, according to officials briefed on the French investigation.

‘These are not regular people’

Mohamed Abdeslam said the last time he saw his brothers was about a week ago.

“They left without saying goodbye,” he said.

Now one of them is a wanted fugitive. And authorities say another Abdeslam brother, Ibrahim, 31, was among the seven terrorists who either killed themselves or were killed by police in a series of coordinated attacks across the French capital on Friday night that killed at least 129 people and wounded hundreds more.

Since the attacks, the French government has declared a state of emergency, carried out hundreds of anti-terrorism raids around the country in a security clampdown and launched waves of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.

Mohamed Abdeslam told CNN that before the attacks, he’d noticed his brothers changing and adopting more radical views. He suspects the Internet could have played a role. But he said his family was shocked by the attack, and had no idea what they were planning.

“My brother who participated in this terrorist act must have been psychologically ready to commit such an act. These are not regular people,” he said. “You cannot have the slightest doubt that they have been prepared, that they must not leave any trace which would cause suspicion that they might do such things. And even if you saw them every day, their behavior was quite normal.”

Suspects questioned by Belgian authorities in February

Police stopped Salah Abdeslam hours after the attacks in a car on his way toward the Belgian border. They let him go because he apparently hadn’t yet been linked to the terrorist operation.

Both he and Ibrahim were previously known to authorities: Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told CNN’s Ivan Watson that police questioned the Abdeslam brothers in February.

“Ibrahim tried to go to Syria and was sent back by the Turks in the beginning of 2015,” Van Der Sypt said. “It was after that that we questioned him.”

Both brothers were released, the federal prosecutor said, after they denied wanting to go to Syria.

He said Belgian authorities were also trying to keep an eye on Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers who struck outside the Stade de France, according to several sources. “We knew (Hadfi) was in Syria,” Van Der Sypt said. “But what we didn’t know is apparently he was back, as he blew himself up in Paris. But we had no knowledge of the fact that he was back in Europe.”

Belgian authorities said two men detained over the weekend in Molenbeek in connection with the attacks were now under arrest for “attempted terrorism and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.”

Atika Shubert and Saskya Vandoorne contributed from Saint-Denis; Scott Bronstein, Margot Haddad and Tim Lister contributed from Paris; Nima Elbagir from Brussels; Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz contributed from Washington; Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, Khushbu Shah and Naima Kouider contributed from Atlanta; Euan McKirdy contributed from Hong Kong; Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong; Greg Botelho, Catherine E. Shoichet and Brian Walker wrote from Atlanta.