France confirms suspected mastermind of Paris attacks killed in raid

France confirms suspected mastermind of Paris attacks killed in raid

France confirms suspected mastermind of Paris attacks killed in raid

Forensics of the French police and members of the BRI, a special unit of the French police, are at work in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis city center, on November 18, 2015, as French Police special forces raid an appartment, hunting those behind the attacks that claimed 129 lives in the French capital five days ago. AFP Photo

The suspected mastermind of last week’s Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in the police raid of an apartment north of the capital on Nov. 18, French officials said on Nov. 19, as French lawmakers extended emergency powers imposed after the carnage.

Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was accused of orchestrating Nov. 13 coordinated bombings and shootings in the French capital, which killed 129 people. 

“It was his body we discovered in the building, riddled with bullets,” a statement from the Paris prosecutor said, a day after the pre-dawn raid, Reuters reported. The prosecutor later added that it was unclear whether Abaaoud had detonated a suicide belt. 

Prime Minister Manuel Valls broke the news in Parliament to applause from lawmakers who were voting on Nov. 19 to extend the country’s state of emergency for another three months, which was passed and allowed for the government to block websites and social media accounts promoting or inciting terrorist acts. 

“We know today ... that the mastermind of the attacks, or one of them, let’s remain cautious, was among those dead,” Valls told reporters.

Early on Wednesday morning, investigations led police to the house where Abaaoud was holed up in the Paris suburb of St. Denis. Heavily armed officers stormed the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions. Officials had said on Nov. 18 that two people were killed in the raid, including a female suicide bomber who blew herself up. Forensic scientists were trying to determine whether a third person had died. Eight people were arrested. 

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Abaaoud was implicated in four thwarted French terror plots this year, deploring the fact that no-one had flagged his presence in Europe, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Six attacks have been avoided or foiled by the French services since spring 2015. Abaaoud was implicated in four of them,” Cazeneuve told reporters on Nov. 19. 

Two police sources and a source close to the investigation told Reuters the St. Denis cell had been planning a fresh attack on Paris’s La Defense business district. A source close to the investigation said the female bomber who was killed might have been Abaaoud’s cousin. 

ISIL, which controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were in retaliation for French air raids against their positions over the past year. 

Belgian police arrested nine people in Brussels on Nov. 19 during raids connected to last week’s deadly Paris attacks, prosecutors said.

Seven people were “taken in for further investigation” during six raids linked to French national stadium bomber Bilal Hadfi, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.   The other two arrests were also linked to last Nov. 13 attacks, the statement read.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Nov. 19 that Russia was sincere in wanting to cooperate in the fight against ISIL in Syria.  

“There is an opening, so to speak, with the Russians. We think they are sincere and we must bring together all our forces,” Fabius told France Inter radio.

Russia’s chief of general staff Valery Gerasimov held talks on Nov. 19 with French counterpart Pierre de Villiers on combating ISIL in Syria, in the first such contact since the start of the Ukraine conflict last year.

Gerasimov and Villiers “discussed on the phone the coordination of military troops’ actions against ISIL terrorists in Syria,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement, adding that the conversation lasted an hour.

French police officers will be allowed to carry their weapon while off duty to protect civilians as long as France maintains the state of emergency following the Paris shootings, police said on Nov. 19. 

French police spokesman Jerome Bonnet told BFM TV that police officers who volunteer would be able to carry their handgun in order to “protect themselves and the population in public places.”

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Nov. 19 in a speech to parliament that the government would introduce laws to jail jihadists returning from Syria, ban hate preachers and close down unregistered places of worship in response to last week’s attacks.