SAINT-DENIS, France (Nov. 18, 2015) — Here are the latest details related to the French police raid on suspected terrorists in a Paris suburb, as well as the larger fight involving ISIS and the West:
• The French police raids in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis — among the dozens conducted overnight around the country — prevented further crimes and murders from being committed, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
• President Francois Hollande said that — with the arrival of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle — France has tripled its capacity to conduct airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
• Turkish police detained eight ISIS-linked suspects who’d arrived at an Istanbul airport from Casablanca, Turkish police said Wednesday, according to the semi-official Anadolu news agency. The eight Moroccans said they had booked a hotel in Turkey and were preparing to head to Germany — via Greece, Serbia and Hungary — the report added, pointing to a document seized by police laying out the travel route.
• Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged lawmakers to back a proposal extending France’s state of emergency for three months, saying leaders need to back up their strong words with actions that allow authorities to be as effective and efficient as possible in clamping down on terror. He told the country’s National Assembly that radical Islam is France’s enemy and must be named as such.
For the second time in a week, gunfire and explosions ripped through France on Wednesday — this time in an hours-long ordeal that ended with two suspected terrorists dead, seven detained, new attacks potentially thwarted and further proof, according to French President Francois Hollande, that his country is “at war” with ISIS.
Phone surveillance and testimony led authorities to believe that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of last week’s bloody Paris attacks, may have been in an apartment in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.
Officials didn’t say immediately if Abaaoud, a Belgian ISIS member widely believed to have been in Syria recently, was among the dead or detained. Still, they lauded the efforts of the heavily armed police involved in the operation that ended, after several tense hours, shortly before noon Wednesday.
French President Francois Hollande was among those who offered congratulations. Yet he also stressed that his country’s fight against terrorists, specifically those linked to ISIS, is anything but over. In fact, the violent nature of Wednesday’s raid in Saint-Denis is further proof that “we are at war,” Hollande said.
“What the terrorists were targeting was what France represents. This is what was attacked on the night of November 13th,” he said. “These barbarians targeted France’s diversity. It was the youth of France who were targeted simply because they represent life.”
Given this threat, Hollande said that Wednesday evening he would present the French parliament with legislation that would extend France’s state of emergency for three additional months — a measure that, among other things, gives authorities greater powers in conducting searches, holding people under house arrest and dissolving certain groups of people.
The French President also said he’d appeal to world leaders — including meetings next week with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have been at odds on what to do in the ISIS stronghold of Syria — to form a wider coalition to go after the savage Islamist extremist group.
“This war began several years ago,” Hollande said. “We still need time.”
‘We could see the bullets’
In France, that war took a major turn Friday with three coordinated attacks that left a trail of death, horror, sorrow and questions.
And it took another turn Wednesday, this time in Saint-Denis.
Some 110 police swarmed on the diverse, working-class area that is home to the Stade de France sports stadium — where three suicide bombings took place days earlier. They first went into one apartment that had been under surveillance since Tuesday, a Paris police source said. That raid led them to another apartment on the same street.
The security action occurred “right on time,” police sources told CNN, as the targeted suspects were “about to move on some kind of operation.”
Instead, one female suspect killed herself at the scene by activating her suicide belt, the prosecutor’s office said. Another suspect died in a clash with police. Seven others — including three in one apartment, the person who loaned the apartment to the suspected terrorists and his friend — ended up in custody.
Five French officers, meanwhile, suffered minor injuries, and a police dog named Diesel died in the operation, according to police.
“We could see the bullets,” a woman, who identified herself only as Sabrine, told CNN affiliate France 2 of the drama. “We could feel the building shaking.”
Riad Moudache, a local resident, was stopped by police and told to evacuate as the raid unfolded. He rushed home to get his 3-year-old daughter.
“I’m just worried about my child,” he said. “My priority now is to protect her.”
Saadana Aymen, a 29-year-old who lives one street down, couldn’t believe what was happening in his neighborhood.
“When you think of Saint-Denis, you don’t think of terrorists,” he told CNN. “I’m shocked! Why would the terrorists pick this neighborhood?”
Phones offer clues
In their push to unravel the attack plot and the suspected network behind it, counterterrorism and intelligence officials say investigators uncovered a clue that could be a big break: cell phones believed to belong to the attackers.
According to the officials, one of the phones contained a message, sent sometime before the Friday attacks began, to the effect of: OK, we’re ready.
“It points to a sort of organization,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said, “an attempt to try to synchronize what was going down.”
But cracking into their communication won’t be easy.
Investigators have found encrypted apps on the phones, which appear to have left no trace of messages or any indication of who would have been receiving them, according to officials briefed on the French investigation.
‘These are not regular people’
Seven attackers died during Friday night’s wave of violence, and an international arrest warrant is out for one suspect, Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman. The identity of the possible ninth suspect — seen in a video that shows two gunmen inside a black car and perhaps a third person driving the vehicle — is unknown.
Abdeslam’s older brother has urged the suspect, who was last seen driving toward the Belgian border hours after the attacks, to turn himself over to authorities.
“I would tell him to surrender. That’s the best solution,” Mohamed Abdeslam told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Tuesday. “But of course, if he has something to do with it, he must accept responsibility.”
Authorities say another Abdeslam brother, 31-year-old Ibrahim, was among the seven terrorists who either killed themselves or were killed by police. That number pales compared to the 129 people killed — all of whom have been positively identified, France’s Council of Ministers reported Wednesday — and hundreds more wounded in the terror.
Since those attacks, the French government has restricted its borders, carried out hundreds of anti-terrorism raids around the country in a security clampdown and launched waves of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
Mohamed Abdeslam told CNN that before the attacks, he’d noticed his brothers changing and adopting more radical views. He suspects the Internet could have played a role. But he said his family was shocked by the attack, and had no idea what they were planning.
“My brother who participated in this terrorist act must have been psychologically ready to commit such an act. These are not regular people,” he said. “You cannot have the slightest doubt that they have been prepared, that they must not leave any trace which would cause suspicion that they might do such things. And even if you saw them every day, their behavior was quite normal.”
Suspects questioned by Belgian authorities in February
Police stopped Salah Abdeslam hours after the attacks in a car on his way toward the Belgian border. They let him go because he apparently hadn’t yet been linked to the terrorist operation.
Both he and Ibrahim were previously known to authorities: Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told CNN’s Ivan Watson that police questioned the Abdeslam brothers in February.
“Ibrahim tried to go to Syria and was sent back by the Turks in the beginning of 2015,” Van Der Sypt said. “It was after that that we questioned him.”
Both brothers were released, the federal prosecutor said, after they denied wanting to go to Syria.
He said Belgian authorities were also trying to keep an eye on Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers who struck outside the Stade de France, according to several sources. “We knew (Hadfi) was in Syria,” Van Der Sypt said. “But what we didn’t know is apparently he was back, as he blew himself up in Paris. But we had no knowledge of the fact that he was back in Europe.”
Belgian authorities said two men detained over the weekend in Molenbeek in connection with the attacks were now under arrest for “attempted terrorism and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.”