Two killed in fierce police raid targeting Paris attack 'mastermind'
A woman blew herself up and a suspected jihadist was killed Wednesday in a massive police assault in Paris targeting the possible mastermind of France's worst-ever terror attacks.
Gunfire and explosions rocked the Saint-Denis area in the north of the city, near the Stade de France stadium, from before dawn as terrified residents were evacuated or told to stay home.
After a siege lasting several hours between security forces and a group of people holed up in an apartment, heavily armed police arrested seven people. Five police officers suffered minor injuries.
Elite police were seen hauling away a naked suspect in the streets near where three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium at the start of Friday's attacks.
After the raid, white-suited forensic experts swarmed the building where the windows appeared to have blasted out, as police tried to verify if Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of Friday's attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, had been inside.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said a probe into the attacks had allowed police "to obtain telephonic surveillance and witness testimony which led us to believe that Abaaoud was likely to be in an... apartment in Saint-Denis".
However, Molins said it was too early to say if he was among those arrested or killed.
Some of the survivors of the assault had tried to hide in the rubble of the badly damaged building, the prosecutor said.
Abaaoud is an Islamic State fighter who was previously thought to be in Syria after fleeing raids in his native Belgium earlier this year.
Residents of the Paris suburb, some of whom were evacuated in their underwear, said they had been caught in a terrifying exchange of fire.
Hayat, 26, had been leaving a friend's apartment where she had spent the night when the shots erupted.
"I heard gunfire," she said. "I could have been hit by a bullet. I never thought terrorists could have hidden here."
A man arrested during the assault told AFP he had loaned his apartment to two people from Belgium as a favour to a friend.
"A friend asked me to put up two of his friends for a few days," Jawad Bendaoud said.
"I said that there was no mattress, they told me 'it's not a problem', they just wanted water and to pray," Bendaoud said before being handcuffed and led away by police.
Seven jihadists were killed or blew themselves up in Friday's attacks on the stadium, a concert hall, bars and restaurants that were claimed by the Islamic State group operating in Iraq and Syria.
All of those killed in the attack have now been identified, the government said.
Police are hunting for two other individuals, including 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, suspected of taking part in the attacks with his suicide-bomber brother Brahim.
In Belgium, where some of the attackers lived, it emerged prosecutors had questioned the two Abdeslam brothers before the attacks "but they had showed no signs of being a potential threat".
The attacks are unprecedented in France, which was shaken to its core for the second time in a year after 17 people were shot dead by jihadists at Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in January.
- 'Don't give in to fear' -
President Francois Hollande praised security forces for their role in the " particularly perilous and taxing" operation which he said proved France was involved in a "war against terrorism".
Hollande told a gathering of mayors that municipal police would be given more weapons and equipment.
But he urged the nation not to "give in to fear" or excessive reactions in the wake of the attacks.
"No anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim act can be tolerated," he said.
Meanwhile, the body representing Muslims in France said it would ask all 2,500 mosques in the country to condemn "all forms of violence or terrorism" at Friday prayers.
France is still under a state of emergency which lawmakers are likely to vote to extend.
- Strikes in Syria -
As police stepped up the hunt for the fugitives, French and Russian jets pounded IS targets in the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqa for a third consecutive day.
A monitoring group said the air strikes had killed at least 33 IS jihadists in the last 72 hours.
France and Russia have vowed merciless retaliation for the bloodshed in Paris and last month's bombing of a Russian airliner over the Egyptian Sinai peninsula which killed 229 people and was also claimed by IS.
The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left southern France on Wednesday and is expected to reach the eastern Mediterranean by the end of the week.
It will help launch intensified air strikes against IS targets.
The attacks have galvanised international resolve to destroy the jihadist 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.
Highlighting US fears over the attack, two Air France flights bound for Paris from the United States were diverted Tuesday and landed safely after anonymous threats that the carrier described as a "bomb scare".
© 2015 AFP