PARIS:(APS)Nov 18,2015 — A woman triggered a suicide blast Wednesday as more than 100 police and soldiers stormed an apartment in northern Paris, acting on tips that the suspected ringleader of last week’s bloodshed could be hiding in the tense French capital.
According to Washington Post that it was not immediately clear whether the massive raid snared any of the most-wanted figures linked to the Paris bloodshed — including a Belgian militant who had boasted he could slip easily between Europe and the Islamic State strongholds in Syria.
But the seven-hour siege left no doubt that other potential threats remained.
As security forces closed in, the woman set off the blast — possibly an explosive-rigged vest or belt — after opening fire. Soon after, a police helicopter spotted a man trying to escape as he fired at police. Sharpshooters killed him, authorities said.
In addition to the two dead, police arrested at least seven people before the showdown was over in the historic heart of Paris’ Saint-Denis neighborhood, a teeming quarter with a large immigrant population.
Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters that the operation was launched after authorities had received information that the suspected overseer of the Paris carnage, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was perhaps in the area.
It also potentially disrupted plans to stage an attack in Paris’s La Defense business district, about 10 miles from Saint-Denis, two police officials and an investigator close to the investigation said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
There was no immediate comment from French authorities.
Abaaoud, raised in a hardscrabble district of Brussels, was believed to be in Syria earlier this year. But some officials speculate he could have returned Europe, perhaps passing undetected among the flood of asylum seekers pouring into Greek islands from Turkey.
Abaaoud is seen as the “guru” of Friday’s deadly attacks at a stadium, concert hall and bars and restaurants in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350 others.
Molins did not confirm that Abaaoud was present at the raid site, and French officials gave no immediate details on the dead or captured. Two of the suspects arrested were found “hiding in rubble” from explosions, authorities said.
The siege unfolded as police scored another potential breakthrough in the probe: the discovery of cell phone in a garbage can near the Bataclan Concert Hall, the site of one of Friday’s assaults.
The phone’s data contained a map of the music venue, French media reported, along with a chilling text message sent shortly after the first gunmen entered the venue: “let’s go, we’re starting.”
The information on the mobile phone opened fresh leads, including to an apartment southeast of Paris in Alfortville, according to Mediapart, a French news outlet.
Across France, 118 raids were conducted with at least 25 arrests. That brings to 414 the total number of raids launched throughout France since Friday’s attack, the ministry said in a statement.
In his latest address to the country, French President François Hollande again cast the fight against Islamist militants in terms of a new kind of warfare that requires the West and others to unite. Hours earlier, France wages another round of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.
“We are at war against terrorism, terrorism which declared war on us,” Holland said. “It is the [Islamic State] jihadist organization. It has an army. It has financial resources. It has oil. It has a territory.
“It has allies in Europe, including in our country,” he continued, “with young, radicalized Islamist people. It committes atrocities there and wants to kill here. It has killed here.”
In Saint-Denis, Uthayaseelan Sanmugan, a 38-year-old cook who lives near the targeted apartment, said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of gunfire, and went to his window and saw the lights of weapon lasers outside.
“When I got to the street, I saw a lot of blood on the sidewalk. The blood of the terrorists.” Later, he said he heard the sounds of explosions so loud that the buildings trembled.