[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ARIS: A female suicide bomber blew herself up and another terrorist died in a police raid in Paris on Wednesday as explosions and automatic gunfire rang out in an operation targeting the suspected mastermind of last week’s attacks.
The pre-dawn raids in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis turned into hours-long standoff between security forces and up to four people holed up in an apartment, near the Stade de France stadium that was attacked by suicide bombers on Friday.
The operation targeted the suspected mastermind of Friday’s deadly attacks in the capital, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a fighter for the self-styled Islamic State (IS), who was previously thought to be in Syria after fleeing raids in his native Belgium. At least four cops were injured in the operation.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, initially thought to have pulled the strings from Syria, was believed to be among a group of people holed up in an apartment in the northern suburb near the national soccer stadium, which was one of the sites attacked by suicide bombers last week. A source close to the investigation said a woman in the apartment had blown herself up and another person was killed, while police said five people had been arrested.
Hayat, 26, had been leaving a friend’s apartment where she had spent the night when the shots rang out just after 4 am. “I heard gunfire. A bullet could have hit me. I never thought terrorists could have hid here,” she said. “Dozens of soldiers had flooded into the area and heavily armed police were seen deploying along a street full of shops in the centre of the district, while ambulances and fire engines filled the streets. Some residents were evacuated, and authorities warned residents to keep away from windows.
The raid came as Europe was placed on high alert after footage from the scene of one of Friday’s attacks in Paris, which killed 129 and injured 350, revealed a ninth suspect may have taken part. It was not clear if the ninth man was one of two suspected accomplices detained in Belgium or was on the run, potentially with 26-year-old fugitive Frenchman Salah Abdeslam who took part in the attacks with his suicide-bomber brother Brahim.
Police also carried out multiple raids in southwestern France, in Ariege, Toulouse and the department of the Haute-Garonne. The operations were part of an anti-terrorism strategy but not directly linked to the Paris attacks, an investigator said. French President Francois Hollande will hold discussions on extending to three months the state of emergency declared after the worst attacks in French history. Lawmakers will vote on the proposal.
In a sign of the nervousness gripping Europe after Friday’s carnage, a football match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hanover was cancelled and the crowd evacuated after police acted on a ‘serious’ bomb threat. As police stepped up the hunt for the fugitives, French and Russian jets pounded IS targets in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa for a third consecutive day.
France and Russia have vowed merciless retaliation for the Paris attacks and last month’s bombing of a Russian airliner over the Egyptian Sinai peninsula which killed 229 people and was also claimed by the IS. “It is necessary to establish a direct contact with the French and work with them as allies,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The attacks have galvanised international resolve to destroy the terrorist group and end Syria’s more than four-year civil war, while potentially restoring ties between Russia and France that had collapsed since last year’s Ukraine crisis. Moscow has finally confirmed that the passenger jet that crashed over the Sinai peninsula was brought down by a bomb, though it did not name any responsible group.
Hollande will meet Putin in Moscow on November 26, two days after seeing US President Barack Obama in Washington. France has invoked a previously unused European Union article to ask member states for help in its mission to fight back against IS, which received unanimous backing from Brussels. The alliance comes as international players meet to discuss ways of ending the Syrian war, which has spurred the rise of IS, forced millions into exile and triggered Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.