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Homeland Security

Officials: Ringleader Behind Paris Attacks Killed in Raid

by Lisa Bryant November 19, 2015

France confirmed the suspected ringleader 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. He was identified from fingerprints.

The statement said it was unclear whether Abaaoud, who was 27 or 28 years old, had detonated a suicide vest.

He had been linked to an April attack on a church in Villejuif, in which one person was killed, and to an August attack on a high-speed train that was thwarted by three young Americans.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France only found out after last week's attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe. He said the tip came from 'an intelligence service outside Europe.'

European plan

European Union justice and interior ministers will hold crisis talks in Brussels Friday to discuss security issues raised by the Paris attacks.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Cazeneuve urged EU ministers to act quickly and decisively to develop a plan to fight terrorism, including reinforcing borders and sharing intelligence information.

'Everyone must understand it is urgent that Europe wakes up, organizes itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat,' he said.

Raids

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.

French police launched the raid early Wednesday after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and witness accounts that suggested Abaaoud was in the apartment in Saint-Denis.

'We can't cry 'victory over terrorism,' ' Michel Thooris, secretary-general for the France Police labor union, said Thursday. '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,'' he told The Associated Press.

However, Parisian taxi driver Samir El Mir was glad to hear the news. "It is wonderful for us, especially when it comes to security. We were told he was at large, which was worrying.'

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. He did not say there was a specific threat against France regarding such weapons, however.

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

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.

European threat

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.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking on France-Inter radio Thursday, urged the international community to do more to eradicate the Islamic State group. He said the extremist group 'is a monster. But if all the countries in the world aren't capable of fighting against 30,000 people (IS members), it's incomprehensible.'

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is in the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, spoke with Hollande Thursday night, the White House said in a statement, adding the two leaders discussed the latest information about the attacks probe.

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

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.

Belgian police arrested nine people during nine raids connected to the Paris attacks, prosecutors said. Seven people were arrested during six raids linked to Hadfi, while the other two arrests were also linked to last Friday's attacks, the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.

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.

Raids, arrests, airstrikes

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

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

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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