Moments ago, French prosecutor Francois Molins gave an update regarding the early morning raid in the Paris suburb of St-Denis that resulted in two deaths and the arrest of seven suspects. The target: the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
French authorities reportedly had Abaaoud’s cousin under surveillance and suspected she was hiding him an apartment about two kilometers from the Stade de France. Here is an eyewitness account of how she died:
During a ten or fifteen minute lull in the shooting I heard a woman shouting: ‘Help, help, help me!’ The police asked her to identify herself and to show herself. She showed her hands but she didn’t reveal her face.
She withdrew them and then put them up again several times. They shouted at her: ‘Keep your hands in the air!’
They told her: ‘We’re going to shoot.’
The shooting resumed. The police were firing from the roof of the building opposite. Suddenly there was an enormous explosion [from the window, inside the flat]. It was probably the woman who blew herself up.
The windows shattered. Lots of objects from the apartment were thrown into the street, pieces of human flesh as well. They are still there. You can see a bit of the head, of skin, of ribs.
Three people were arrested in the apartment itself, while two additional suspects, along with the landlord and his “female friend” were also taken into custody.
At this afternoon’s press conference, Molins confirmed that Abaaoud was not among those arrested.
However, he also said he could not identify those who had been killed, which suggested that perhaps Abaaoud was among the dead. After Molins spoke to the press, Washington Post reported that according to European intelligence officials, Abaaoud was killed.
Here are three images from the scene:
Molins went on to say that some 5,000 rounds were fired in the battle between militants and elite police forces on Wednesday morning. Here's his account of the arrests:
There are two people dead but it will take a bit longer to get the additional details, because the building had to be propped up because it was threatening to collapse.
Police found in the rubble of the attack two men, one injured. They were immediately arrested.
Two other people were arrested outside, including person who let the militants use and a woman next to him.
Perhaps the most unnerving thing about the raid (especially if you live in Paris) is that according to officials, this "cell" was very close to carrying out another attack in the city. According to Reuters, that attack was set to unfold on Thursday in the business district. Here are the details:
Suspected Islamist militants flushed out of a Paris suburb by police in a shootout on Wednesday were planning to attack the French capital's La Defense business district, three sources told Reuters.
A source close to the investigation source said the attack was being prepared for Thursday in the district that is home to some of France's biggest companies such as the oil major Total and the main trading room of Societe Generale bank.
Several police sources said the targets were the Quatre Temps shopping centre and the main square of the district of high-rise office buildings on the western edge of Paris.
"The police forces were looking for terrorists who were preparing another attack on the basis of information from the (local) counter-terrorism services and overseas," said the source close to the investigation.
"This new team was planning an attack on La Defense," the source said.
To give you an idea of how bad this could have been, consider that this is the most visited shopping center in France. Here are some bullet points (no morbid pun intended):
- Four levels of shops
- Four levels of parking, 6500 spaces parking
- 230 shops (30 shops without Cnit nor the 50 stores of the mall from the station, which is managed by another company and is not the mall)
- The eleventh Apple Store in France was open to Quatre Temps May 25, 2012
- Les Quatre Temps is the first French shopping center by turnover (824.1 million euros in 2009) to large Vélizy 2 2, the second in size behind Belle Thorn (140 900) and its first attendance (45.7 million visitors in 2012 3) before the Forum des Halles. The expansion and renovation allowed him to take first place.
And here are two videos, the first depicts La Defense and the second is a kind of POV tour through the shopping center.
As you can see, if Abaaoud's operatives were looking for so-called "soft targets", there would have been plenty.
The obvious question now, is how many more "safehouses" and "cells" there are hidden in the suburbs of Paris and, additionally, what kind of "intelligence" France is sitting on regarding what might be coming next.
For now, it looks like Hollande has all the support he needs to escalate attacks in Syria, but should public opinion need that little extra push over the edge in terms of supporting the deployment of ground troops to take Raqqa (and subsequently "assist" in facilitating a "transition" away from the Assad government), don't be surprised if a few more Syrian passports are found in a safe house or worse, on what's left of the body of a suicide bomber.