Officials: Ringleader Behind Paris Attacks Killed in Raid

VOA

Lisa Bryant

France confirmed the suspected mastermind of last week’s Paris attacks was killed in a police raid Wednesday, and officials said he has been implicated in four of six foiled attacks in the country this year.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said the bullet-riddled body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, was found inside an apartment targeted in the seven-hour police raid in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris.

Abaaoud, who was 27 or 28 years old, was identified from fingerprints.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France did not know before last week’s attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe. He also urged European Union ministers to act quickly and decisively to develop a plan to fight terrorism when they meet in Brussels Friday.

Paris Assailants, Suspects

Status: Still at large

Name: Salah Abdeslam
Background: French national born in Belgium
Investigation: Considered eighth attacker; believed to be driver of car outside the Bataclan

Status: Dead

Name: Abdelhamid Abaaoud
Background: Belgian of Moroccan origin
Investigation: Ringleader of Paris attacks

Name: Ibrahim Abdeslam
Background: French citizen
Investigation: Suicide bomber at cafe on Boulevard Voltaire; brother of Salah Abdeslam

Name: Samy Amimour
Background: Born in Paris
Investigation: One of three suicide bombers at Bataclan concert hall

Name: Bilal Hadfi
Status: Dead
Background: Nationality unknown, living in Belgium prior to attacks
Investigation: One of three suicide bombers at soccer stadium

Name: Ismael Omar Mostefai
Background: Chartres, France
Investigation: Suicide bomber at Bataclan concert hall

Name: Ahmad al Muhammad (falsified name)
Background: Unknown; emergency passport said he was from Syria
Investigation: Suicide bomber at soccer stadium; emergency passport found on his body

Name: Unknown
Background: Unknown
Investigation: Suicide bomber at soccer stadium; carried falsified Turkish passport

Name: Unknown
Background: Unknown
Investigation: Suicide bomber at Bataclan concert hall; has not yet been identified

They need to protect “the Europe that we love and have built,” Cazeneuve told reporters Thursday. He added the EU needs to develop a plan to reinforce and consolidate its borders.

At least eight people were arrested in the raid, during which a woman identified as Abaaoud’s cousin died when she detonated her explosives-filled vest. Three police officers were wounded and a police dog was killed.

“A new team of terrorists was neutralized, and all indications are that, given their arms, their organizational structure and their determination, the commandos could have struck” again, Paris prosector Francois Molins said after Wednesday’s police raid.

The operation took place about 2 kilometers from the football (soccer) stadium attacked last week during a match attended by President Francois Hollande.

State of emergency

French lawmakers voted Thursday to extend state of emergency declared after Friday’s attacks by three months. The National Assembly approved the measure, and the Senate is expected to vote on it Friday.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said state-of-emergency rules are necessary because of the broad risk of terrorist attacks – including, he said, the possible use of chemical or biological weapons.

Emergency rules allow police officers to carry their weapons while off-duty.

President Francois Hollande said Wednesday the extension includes a provision that enables authorities to close “any association or gathering,” which includes mosques and community groups, where people are “glorifying terrorism” or encouraging people to carry out terrorist acts.

The bill has drawn criticism from rights activists.

Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union’s police coordination agency, highlighted the scale of the Paris attacks Thursday, saying they mark “a very serious escalation” of terrorism in Europe and are a “clear statement” of the Islamic State group’s intention to bring its brutal brand of terror to the continent.

Wainwright also said the EU database identifying and tracking suspected foreign fighters traveling between Europe and Syria and Iraq has doubled in size in the past year, and now contains about 10,000 names —  2,000 of those names have been positively confirmed as foreign fighters. He added, however, many believe the number of foreign fighters is likely closer to 5,000.

“It is reasonable to assume … that further attacks are likely,” Wainwright told a hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels Thursday.

A website linked to Islamic State has claimed responsibility for last week’s attack by suicide bombers and others armed with automatic weapons.

Belgium raid

Belgian authorities launched their own raids Thursday in several parts of Brussels connected to Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the stadium. Officials said the operation focused on Hadfi’s family, friends and others linked to him.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel also announced a $427 million package of new security measures, including plans to jail militants who return from Syria, banning hate preachers and closing unregistered places of worship.

Michel fought back against criticism of his country’s security services after President Hollande said the Paris attacks were planned in Belgium.

“I do not accept the criticism seeking to disparage our security services, who do a difficult and tough job,” he said in an address to parliament.

‘At war’ with terrorism

Shortly after the Wednesday’s siege ended, Hollande said France is “at war” with terrorism, but warned against overreactions. “No xenophobic, anti-Semite, anti-Muslim act must be tolerated,” he said.

Hollande urged people to defy terrorists by resuming life in full, and promised increased security to ensure popular sites can reopen. France will “remain a country of freedoms,” he said.

Speaking to an assembly of French mayors, Hollande said he wants to build a large coalition to target the Islamic State militants, and he outlined a series of measures to fight the group.

Hollande is scheduled to discuss ways to intensify the anti-IS campaign with U.S. President Barack Obama next week in Washington, and is to meet November 26 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Fugitive Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim, who died during the attacks, rented three cars from Belgium to carry out the Paris operations, police said. They found the autos in different spots around the capital and outskirts, with a stash of assault weapons.

They also found a cellphone in a garbage can near the Bataclan music hall, where the bloodiest attack took place, with a text message reading, “Let’s go.”

Raids, arrests

French police said Wednesday they have carried out 414 raids and made 60 arrests, while seizing 75 weapons since last Friday.

In addition, 118 others have been placed under house arrest, another of the new powers permitted under France’s state of emergency that was declared Saturday.

Officials said Wednesday that all 129 victims of the attacks last Friday have been identified.

Syria airstrikes

The French airstrikes have destroyed at least 35 Islamic State targets in Syria, French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said Thursday.

Jaron said French planes dropped about 60 bombs on six sites, and all the targets were Islamic State command centers or training sites. The aim, he said, is to weaken and disorganize the Islamic State group.

The airstrikes began Sunday in response to last week’s deadly attacks in Paris.

Chris Hannas and Mia Bush contributed to this report from Washington.

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