The fate of the suspected mastermind and one of the attackers in the deadly terror strikes on Paris last week remained unclear on Thursday as French authorities said they couldn’t confirm if they were among those killed during a ferocious raid.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said he couldn’t identify the two people killed without a forensic investigation or the eight arrested in the tense, seven-hour police operation in the northern Paris of Saint-Denis that killed two people, including one woman who blew herself up.
Molins’ statement came hours after media reports quoted intelligence officials that Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- the suspected ringleader behind the brazen attacks that killed over 130 people – had been killed in the police assault.
The whereabouts of Saleh Abdeslam -- suspected of carrying out the attack with his suicide-bomber brother Brahim– could also not be confirmed. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for what was the deadliest-ever terror strike in France.
Police rained more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition on a Saint Denis apartment where the Belgian Abaaoud was thought to be hiding along with other terrorists. A series of explosions rang out as the police closed in on the dwelling and one suspect was seen being dragged away.
Authorities said the dead woman – said to be a relative of Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin – detonated her explosive vest soon after the raid began. The other suspect was killed by grenades and police bullets.
The body that had sustained a number of gunshots was “not in a state that allows it to be identified”, Molins said. “I am not able to give you a precise number and identity of those killed. There are at least two dead and verifications will likely take longer than expected,” he added.
“A new team of terrorists was neutralised and all indications are that given their arms, their organisational structure and their determination, the commando could have struck,” he said.
An interior ministry spokesman said the building was so badly damaged that it was unclear if there was a third body in the rubble.
Molins said the raid was launched after information from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated Abaaoud might be in a safe house in the area.
The operation was “to neutralise terrorists who had links to the perpetrators of Friday’s hideous crimes”, French president Francois Hollande said. “France will remain a country of liberty and culture...France will never give in to fear,” he said.
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