Police: Paris raid well-timed, suspects were “about to move on some kind of operation”
(CNN) — A suicide bomber blew herself up and a police sniper took out a second terror suspect after authorities stormed two apartments and a church Wednesday in the northern Parisian suburb that hosted one of last week’s deadly terrorist attacks.
The raid in Saint-Denis, home to the Stade de France arena that was hit by three suicide bombers Friday, targeted a suspected ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, though it’s still not clear if he was at any of the locations, a senior Belgian counterterrorism official told CNN.
Eight people were detained. The two people killed in the raids have not yet been identified. Alleged ringleader Abaaoud and suspect Salah Abdeslam are not in custody, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Wednesday. The prosecutor did not give any indication as to whether officials believe that either is dead.
Police say the raid was well-timed because the suspects were “about to move on some kind of operation.” A phone thrown into a garbage can outside the Bataclan theater contained a text message saying the attack was about to begin, Molins said. Authorities are trying to determine who the message was sent to.
Wednesday’s shootout in Saint-Denis began at 4:20 a.m. local time and lasted nearly an hour, Molins said. Police fired more than 5,000 rounds into the attackers’ hideout.
Here are the most important developments from Wednesday:
• NEW: The suicide bomber who blew herself up during the Saint-Denis raid has been identified as a cousin of Abaaoud, Belgian state broadcaster RTBF reported. CNN has not verified the report, but earlier Wednesday, a Belgian counterterrorism official told CNN that before the raid, a wiretap conducted by French and Belgian authorities led them to believe Abaaoud’s female cousin was in an apartment in Saint-Denis.
• NEW: A French bomb squad destroyed a suspicious package at the Gare du Nord terminal. It was not an explosive device, but the train station was briefly evacuated.
• NEW: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called French President Francois Hollande to express his condolences and to commend “France’s determination and active role in mobilizing the international community to counter the grave threat of international terrorism. He underlined that many refugees were themselves fleeing extremism and terrorism and stressed the importance for France and Europe to continue to treat refugees and migrants with compassion,” a U.N. statement said.
• Paris attack suspects Salah Abdeslam and Abaaoud served time in prison together in Belgium in 2011, the Belgian federal prosecutor said.
• All 129 victims of the Paris attacks have been identified, the French Council of Ministers said. More than 100 bodies have been released to families.
The investigation and Wednesday’s raid
• Investigators will use DNA analysis to determine whether Abaaoud was killed in the raid, a Belgian counterterrorism official told CNN. A French commando team used powerful munitions to neutralize suspects, resulting in the collapse of an entire floor of the building. In the rubble, investigators found body parts, the source said.
• Seven people were arrested in the Saint-Denis raid. Authorities did not immediately identify them.
• Two suspects from the Saint-Denis raids, both of whom required surgery for arm injuries, are being treated at a hospital in Bobigny, France, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
• Five police officers were injured and a police dog was killed, police said.
• The raids focused on two apartments on the same street, a Paris police source told CNN. The raid on one group led to a raid on another group, the source said. Witnesses reported hearing sustained gunfire about 4:30 a.m., and a CNN reporter said she heard five or six explosions at the scene, but it wasn’t clear if the explosions were controlled or otherwise.
• Authorities overnight in France conducted 118 searches, took 25 people into custody and confiscated 34 weapons, the French Interior Ministry said. Authorities also “found narcotics 16 times,” the statement said.
• Investigators recovered multiple cell phones at the scenes of Friday’s attacks that are believed to belong to the attackers, a possible break that could help uncloak the plot and the network behind it, counterterrorism and intelligence officials said. One phone reportedly contained a message sent before the attacks, the gist of which was: OK, we’re ready.
• French police are analyzing a video that shows two gunmen and perhaps a third person inside a black SEAT automobile that has been tied to the attacks, French media reported.
The scene in France
• On Wednesday evening, Hollande will introduce legislation that would extend France’s state of emergency for three months.
• Two Air France flights headed for Paris — one from Washington Dulles International Airport and the other from Los Angeles — were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Salt Lake City, respectively, after bomb threats, officials say. Both flights have been searched and declared safe.
• The traditional opening of the Christmas lights in Paris, slated for Wednesday, was canceled because of the Friday terrorist attacks, organizers said.
Around the globe
• Turkish authorities detained eight Moroccan men believed to be linked to ISIS. They had flown from Casablanca, Morocco, to Istanbul, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. They were deported, back to Casablanca, police told CNN.
• As a growing number of U.S. governors said they didn’t want Syrian refugees in their states, President Barack Obama criticized them, saying he “cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for (ISIS).” Speaking at the State Department, CIA Director John Brennan said it’s important for the U.S. to strike a balance between accepting refugees fleeing Syria and maintaining security safeguards so that terrorists cannot exploit the resettlement program.
• Thirty-three ISIS members have been killed by French and other military airstrikes in the last 72 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, said Wednesday. “Dozens of ISIS leaders and their families” are moving from Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, in northern Syria, toward the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the Observatory said.
• German officials said they haven’t made any arrests or found any explosives at a stadium in Hannover, Germany, that was evacuated just before a friendly match between Germany and the Netherlands on Tuesday.
• Muslims worldwide take to social media using the hashtag #NotInMyName to condemn the Paris attacks.