2 suspects killed, 7 arrested in raid on Paris suburb
PARIS, France (CNN) — 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:
• Eagles of Death Metal, the U.S. band playing a concert in Paris’ Bataclan when that theater was attacked, said in a statement Wednesday that they “are horrified and still trying to come to terms with what happened.” The band, which thanked French and U.S. officials for their help in the aftermath of the attack that left 89 dead at the concert hall, said all its shows are on hold until further notice. “Vive la musique, vive la liberté, vive la France, and vive EODM,” the group said.
• CIA Director John Brennan insisted Wednesday that the United States should maintain its longstanding policy of welcoming refugees from around the globe, but said he is evaluating how to strengthen the existing security safeguards to keep terrorists from exploiting the resettlement program.
• 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.
• French 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 at least two terror suspects dead, seven detained, new attacks potentially thwarted and further proof, according to French President Francois Hollande, that his country is “at war” with ISIS.
Authorities zeroed in on a building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis after picking up phone conversations indicating that a relative of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of last week’s bloody attacks, might be there, a Belgian counterterrorism official said. French police also believed Abaaoud himself was then still in the country, though they didn’t know exactly where.
By late Wednesday, the new question was whether or not he is even alive. Investigators are using DNA to analyze the body parts found in the Saint-Denis building where a female suspect first blew herself up and then French forces used powerful munitions to combat others, which led to one floor of the building collapsing.
Hollande was among those who offered congratulations to French police on the raid. 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 legislation to extend France’s state of emergency for three more months — a measure that, among other things, gives authorities greater powers in conducting searches, holding people and dissolving certain groups.
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’
As France learned Friday — when a series of coordinated attacks left a trail of horror, sorrow and questions, with 129 dead and hundreds more wounded — terrorists act with savagery on their own schedule.
And those in Saint-Denis were “about to move on some kind of operation” again, police sources told CNN, adding that the Wednesday raid happened “just in time.”
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 French police met fierce resistance when they entered the building, including the female suicide bomber, according to the Belgian counterterrorism official. They answered with powerful munitions of their own, a fact that produced piles of rubble interspersed with body parts.
“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.”
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there could end up being more than the two suspected terrorist deaths. As of Wednesday afternoon, seven suspects — including three in one apartment, the person who loaned the apartment to the suspected terrorists and his friend — ended up in custody from this operation alone.
Five French officers, meanwhile, were slightly wounded, while a police dog died in the operation, according to police.
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
Yet Saint-Denis wasn’t the only place where French authorities fanned out Tuesday night into Wednesday, as part of their security clampdown.
The Interior Ministry announced in a statement that 118 searches led to the detention of at least 25 people, the confiscation of 34 weapons and the discovery of illicit drugs in 16 instances. This is on top of hundreds of similar operations conducted in recent days, which have resulted in 64 people being held and 118 put under house arrest.
Authorities have not yet laid out what connection any of these arrests have to Friday’s attacks. Yet counterterrorism and intelligence officials say that investigators have uncovered what 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.
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.
Mohamed Abdeslam has urged his younger brother Salah, who was stopped but then let go en route to the Belgian border hours after the attacks, to turn himself into authorities. He acknowledged noticing Salah and another brother — 31-year-old Ibrahim, who is among the seven terrorists killed — had been adopting more radical views, though that didn’t mean the family isn’t shocked.
“My brother who participated in this terrorist act must have been psychologically ready to commit such an act. These are not regular people,” he told CNN.
“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.”
Official: Belgian authorities lost track of 2 suspects
Both Salah Abdeslam and Ibrahim were previously known to authorities: Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told CNN’s Ivan Watson police questioned the Abdeslam brothers in February. The brothers were released, the federal prosecutor said, after they denied wanting to go to Syria.
And Salah Abdeslam and Abaaoud served time together in a Belgian prison in 2011, when the former spent a month for an alleged theft, a Belgian federal prosecutor said.
Belgian authorities believe Abaaoud has spent previous months in Raqqa, the Syrian city that’s now the de facto capital of the Islamic State, or ISIS, a counterrrorism official in that European nation said. There, in Syria, Abaaoud is thought to have worked with several senior French figures in ISIS — members of the so-called Artigat network including Sabri Essid and Fabien Clain, whose voice can be heard on the claim of responsibility for the Paris attacks — to plot a series of attacks in France.
Already, Essid and Clain have been traced to an April plot to attack a Paris church and the August armed assault on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train that was thwarted by three Americans.
As to those behind the latest violence, Belgian authorities didn’t even know Abaaoud was back in Europe, according to the counterterrorism official. They’d also lost track of Salah Abdeslam.
And, the senior Belgian official said, the bombmaker who made the suicide vests used in Paris is also thought to still be at large.