Top suspect in Paris attacks and accomplice confirmed dead

Top suspect in Paris attacks and accomplice confirmed dead

FRENCH officials said on Thursday, Nov. 19 that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic State militant suspected of being the ringleader in last week’s terror attacks in Paris, has been killed in a police raid.

Abaaoud’s body was found on Wednesday, Nov. 18 in a suburban apartment building in Saint-Denis, France, and identified the 27-year-old using his fingerprints, according to the Associated Press.

Officials thought Abaaoud had escaped to Syria, and it was not clear how he ended up near Paris. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the French government were not aware that Abaaoud was in Europe.

“Mr. Abaaoud’s body was heavily riddled with wounds from gunfire and a grenade detonated during the raid,” said Paris prosecutor François Molins in a statement. “We do not know at this stage whether Abaaoud blew himself up or not.”

Another person was also killed during the raid: a 26-year-old woman who reportedly opened fire on French police and then detonated a suicide vest, whom two French intelligence officials identified as Hasna Aitboulahcen, a cousin of Abaaoud, according to The New York Times.

The death of Abaaoud and Aitboulahcen ended one chapter of intense criminal investigation following the coordinated attacks at a national stadium, a theater venue, and several outdoor boulevards that killed a total of 129 people.

However, a large manhunt continued in Belgium for 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen who was also involved. Belgian authorities arrested nine people in a series of police raids on Thursday, including those allegedly connected with 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi, who detonated an explosive vest outside of the Stade de France stadium last week.

The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office told AP that police raids were taking place in the suburb of Molkenbeek, where Abaaoud lived, and other areas of Brussels. The investigation is still ongoing.

“We can’t cry ‘victory over terrorism’,” said Michel Thooris, secretary-general for the France-Police labor union. “The situation is far more complex than one bad guy. It’s a good thing, but we don’t think the entire network has been taken down.”

Abaaoud was believed to be the mastermind of four out of six attacks thwarted since the spring by French authorities, including a recent attack on a high-speed train that was stopped by three American soldiers.

In France, still reeling from the chaos and newly-declared war by President François Hollande, the National Assembly voted Thursday to extend the country’s state of emergency for three months. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it will likely be approved.

The state of emergency expands French police powers to carry out arrests and searches, and allows authorities to forbid people and vehicles moving at specific times and places. The extension was pressed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who warned that Islamic extremists could use chemical or biological weapons.

“Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria…but for what it is,” Valls said, not adding if there was a specific threat against France involving such weapons.

In response to the attacks, France has stepped up its airstrikes against the terrorist group at its homebase in Syria, and French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said that military forces have destroyed 35 Islamic State targets in the region.

Meanwhile, President Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow in the coming week to push for a stronger international coalition against the extremists. Cazeneuve has requested a meeting of European interior and justice ministers in Brussels to discuss global strategy in the ongoing fight against terrorism.

“Everyone must understand that it is urgent for Europe to recover, get organized and defend itself against the terrorist threat,” he said.

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