At least two people have been killed in a shootout during a major police operation targeting the alleged mastermind of Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, police and judicial sources have told French media, reports The Guardian
One of the fugitives wanted in connection with the series of suicide bombings and shootings was shot dead by a police sniper, while the second, a woman, reportedly blew herself up by detonating an explosive belt.
There were unconfirmed reports that there may be a third person inside the apartment building in St-Denis, a town just north of Paris, where police launched the operation at about 4.30am. None of the fugitives’ identities have been confirmed.
Police said the operation was targeting Abdel-Hamid Aba Oud, the suspected mastermind of last week’s attacks, which killed 129 people. Aba Oud, 27, a well-known extremist sentenced in his absence to 20 years in jail in his native Belgium, was believed to have been in Syria. It is not known whether Aba Oud was in the apartment.
There were also unconfirmed reports that Salah Abdeslam – whose brother, Brahim, blew himself up in the Paris attacks – and an unidentified “ninth attacker” sought since Tuesday night were holed up in the apartment at a block on the rue de Corbillon.
Police made five arrests in the operation – three men detained in the apartment and two, a man and a woman, outside. Three officers were slightly injured.
Video reportedly posted from the scene early on Wednesday morning showed men, with their faces covered, carrying automatic weapons and walking down otherwise deserted streets, lit by streetlights.
Didier Paillard, the mayor of St-Denis, close to the Stade de France stadium which was the target of one of Friday night’s attacks, said at about 6am he could still hear exchanges of fire. “It has not stopped since 4.30,” he said.
Fatima Bourahli, 26, was standing in the street with a coat on over her pyjamas, looking at the police line, as soldiers in camouflage crouched with automatic weapons nearby.
“My daughter is six and she’s scared and confused,” she said. “The schools here are shut today, children are staying home. People are really scared and pretty tense. The government says we’re at war.”
Djamila Khaldi, a cleaner, 54, lives near the famous Saint-Denis Basilica, not far from the street targeted in the raid at the heart of the town’s historic centre.
“I was up before 4am because I had to drive my daughter to the airport,” she said. “I heard the shots and I just thought, there must be some kind of stand-off, terrorists must be hiding here.
“What can you say? Terrorism has come to Saint-Denis, the mood has changed and it will stay that way. People are distrustful, looking at each other. Saint-Denis will be labelled for this now. It’s a real shame.”
The existence of a so-called “ninth attacker” was unknown to investigators until CCTV was found on Tuesday showing three men in a car – not two as previously believed – opening fire with assault rifles on patrons at Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon bars in the 10th arrondissement.
Wednesday’s operation came after a police source said a mobile phone, found in a dustbin near the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died, was found with a map of the music venue targeted in one of the attacks and a text message saying “let’s go”.