Explosions and gunfire rang out early on Wednesday as heavily armed police surrounded a suburban Paris apartment in a raid targeting the suspected mastermind of last week’s Paris attacks.
A senior police official said he believed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Daesh militant, was inside the apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis with five other heavily armed people.
The official, who was not authorised to be publicly named according to police rules but is informed routinely about the operation, said scores of police stormed the building early on Wednesday and were met with unexpectedly violent resistance.
Reinforcements were summoned and several people have been injured.
Residents said a first explosion shook the neighbourhood at about 4 am (0300GMT).
“Then there was second big explosion. Then two more explosions. There was an hour of gunfire,” said Baptiste Marie, a 26-year-old independent journalist who lives in the neighborhood.
Another witness, Amine Guizani, said he heard the sound of grenades and automatic gunfire.
“They were shooting for an hour. Nonstop. There were grenades. It was going, stopping. Kalashnikovs. Starting again,” Guizani said.
Sporadic bangs and explosions continued, and at 6:30 am at least seven explosions shook the center of Saint-Denis. Associated Press reporters at the scene could hear what sounded like grenade blasts from the direction of the standoff.
Investigators have identified 27-year-old Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday’s attacks in Paris.
A US official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an Daesh external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.
Police vans and fire trucks rushed to the scene north of Paris. The site is less than two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Stade de France stadium, which was targeted by three suicide bombers during Friday’s attacks.
Police cordoned off the area nearby, including a pedestrian zone lined with shops and 19th-century apartment buildings. Riot police cleared people from the streets, pointing guns at curious residents to move them off the roads.
Saint-Denis Mayor Didier Paillard said public transport was suspended and that schools in the center of town would not open on Wednesday.
Seven attackers died in Friday’s gun-and-bomb rampage through Paris that killed at least 129 people and left over 350 wounded. The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for the carnage.
Source: Khaleej Times