Suspected mastermind of Paris attacks Abaaoud died in police raid: Prosecutor

Abdelhamid Abaaoud is seen in an undated video posted by ISIS.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud is seen in an undated video posted by ISIS.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (REUTERS/AFP) - The suspected mastermind of the attacks that killed 129 in Paris was among those killed in a police raid in a suburb of the French capital on Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement on Thursday.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant, who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was accused of orchestrating Friday's coordinated bombings and shootings, which killed 129 people.

Police originally thought he was in Syria, but their investigations led them to a house in the Paris suburb of St Denis and heavily armed officers stormed the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions.

"Abdelhamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified, after comparing fingerprints, as having been killed during the (police) raid," the statement said.

"It was the body we had discovered in the building, riddled with bullets."

The prosecutor later added that it was unclear whether Abaaoud had detonated a suicide belt.

 

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls hailed Abaaoud's death. He broke the news in Parliament to applause from lawmakers who were voting on Thursday to extend the country's state of emergency for another three months.

"We know today ... that the mastermind of the attacks - or one of them, let's remain cautious - was among those dead," Mr Valls told reporters.

Confirmation that Abaaoud was in Paris will focus more attention on European security services, who ahead of Friday's attacks had thought he was still in Syria.

"This is a major failing," said Mr Roland Jaquard at the International Observatory for Terrorism.

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 Wednesday that two people were killed in the raid, including a female suicide bomber who blew herself up.

A woman in the apartment detonated her suicide vest and a body was found so riddled with bullets that made it difficult to identify, the prosecutor had earlier said.

Forensic scientists were trying to determine whether a third person had died.

Eight people were arrested.

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.

Investigators believe the attacks - the deadliest in France since World War II - were set in motion in Syria, with Islamist cells in neighbouring Belgium organising the mayhem.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said on Wednesday that the raid in Saint-Denis had stopped a "new team of terrorists" who were ready to launch another attack in a city still mourning 129 dead.

Mr Valls warned of the dangers still faced by France as lawmakers voted on extending an extraordinary package of security measures for three months. "We must not rule anything out. There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons," he said.

He called on France's European Union partners to urgently adopt measures to share airline passenger information.

The decision by lawmakers Thursday means the state of emergency will be in place for three months from Nov 26.

The measures include allowing police to carry weapons when they are off duty and use them in the event of an attack - providing they wear a police armband to avoid "any confusion", according to a directive seen by AFP.

French MPs also voted to allow the government to block websites and social media under the state of emergency.