PARIS • Suspected militants targeted by police in a raid in a Paris suburb on Wednesday had been planning to attack the French capital's La Defense business district and Charles de Gaulle airport, according to police sources.
The pre-dawn raid by elite teams of the French police was part of the probe into last week's coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris.
Yesterday, the prosecutor's office confirmed that the body of the suspected mastermind of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had been identified among those killed.
Police originally thought he was in Syria. Their investigations, however, led them to an apartment in Saint-Denis, which became the scene of a massive firefight and multiple explosions.
One source close to the investigations told Reuters that the militant attack on La Defense was being prepared for yesterday. The district is home to some of France's biggest companies such as the oil major Total and the main trading room of Societe Generale bank.
Other police sources said the targets were the Quatre Temps shopping centre and the main square of the district of high-rise office buildings on the western edge of Paris.
"The police forces were looking for terrorists who were preparing another attack on the basis of information from the (local) counter-terrorism services and overseas," said a source.
"This new team was planning an attack on La Defense," the source said.
Unconfirmed police sources cited by France 2 television said the group was a fourth team in addition to the three involved in last Friday's attacks around Paris.
They believe that the team may have been planning to strike La Defense as well as Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris, which is the country's largest international airport. Security has been significantly increased there following the attacks in Paris last Friday.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins did not identify the targets when he spoke at a press conference yesterday. But he said the raid had neutralised a new team of terrorists.
"All indications are that given their arms, their organisational structure and their determination, the commandos could have struck," he said.
The police rained more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition on the apartment in the Rue du Corbillon, which local officials described as a drug-infested and dangerous street that has many squatters. The area is not far from the Stade de France, where three attackers blew themselves up in last week's attacks.
One witness said a woman with blonde hair had pleaded for help from the police before reportedly detonating a vest or belt that she was wearing. Another source close to the investigation said the woman might have been Abaaoud's cousin.
Media reports have identified her as 26-year-old Hasna Aitboulahcen, a French-Moroccan national, although French officials have yet to confirm this.
One body was found so riddled with bullets that it was difficult to confirm its identity immediately. That body was confirmed last night as Abaaoud's.
Eight people were arrested during the raid, but 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam - suspected of taking part in the Paris attacks with his brother Brahim - was not among those held. "We are in the process of verifying that. Everything will be done to determine who is who," Mr Molins said.
The police sources indicated that Paris had received a tip about the planned La Defense attack from Morocco's intelligence service and four of its officers were in the French capital to meet police.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE