Paris shootout: Suspects holed up in apartment, several cops injured

PARIS: At least one person was killed in northern Paris on Wednesday during a pre-dawn raid by police hunting for suspected mastermind of the attacks on Friday that claimed 129 lives in the French capital five days ago.

French news agency AFP said the raid was part of the nationwide manhunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to be the mastermind of the Paris massacre. Terror group Islamic State has actually claimed responsibility for the killing.

Several policemen were wounded in the anti-terrorism raid, said a source close to the operation, which began before dawn in the suburb of Saint Denis. Police sources said several unidentified men were still holed up in an apartment as the operation continued at 6:15am.

The area is residence to the Stade de France, one of several places hit by gunmen and suicide bombers on Friday in the worst ever attack on French soil, which was claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Firemen told AFP they they joined the operation versus “an armed group holed up in an apartment” at 4:31am, without giving any further details, adding that one person was lightly hurt. The area was closed down and intermittent gunfire could still be heard an hour after it started.

Another source said a special armed response unit took part in the raid, which comes as Europe was on high alert after footage from the scene of one of Friday’s attacks revealed a ninth suspect may have taken part.

It was not clear if this ninth man was one of two suspected accomplices detained in Belgium or was on the run, potentially with 26-year-old fugitive Frenchman Salah Abdeslam who carried out one of the attacks at Bonne Biere cafe along with his suicide-bomber brother Brahim.

French police evacuate residents during an operation to catch Paris attack fugitives in Saint-Denis (Reuters Photo)

French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday will hold a meeting to discuss proposals to extend by three months the state of emergency declared after the worst attacks in French history. It will then be put to vote by lawmakers Thursday and Friday.

In a sign of the nervousness gripping Europe after Friday’s carnage, a football match between Germany and the Netherlands was cancelled Tuesday and the crowd evacuated after police acted on a “serious” bomb threat.

As police stepped up the hunt for the fugitives, French and Russian jets pounded IS targets in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqa for a third consecutive day.

France and Russia have vowed merciless retaliation for the Paris attacks and last month’s bombing of a Russian airliner, also claimed by the Islamic State group, which have galvanised international resolve to destroy the jihadists and end Syria’s more than four-year civil war.

“It’s necessary to establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said as France prepared to send an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean.

Hollande will meet Putin in Moscow on November 26, two days after seeing US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Police have issued the photograph of one of the three men who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France, who investigators have established entered Europe through Greece, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have done this year.

A French policeman points as he evacuates residents during an operation to catch Paris attack fugitives in Saint-Denis. (Reuters Photo)

He was found with a Syrian passport near his body, but investigators have not confirmed that he was the man in the document and are appealing for anyone who recognises him to come forward.

Satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which lost 12 staff in an attack by jihadist gunmen in January, unveiled a tribute cover for the Paris victims showing a dancing reveller with bottle and glass in hand, and champagne pouring out of bullet holes in his body.

“They have weapons,” the caption reads, adding: “Screw them, we have champagne.”

France has actually invoked a previously unused European Union article to ask member states for help in its mission to fight back versus the Islamic State organisation, which received unanimous backing from Brussels.

But France also appears to be forging an unexpected alliance with Russia, which it has actually clashed with over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, after both countries were targeted by the jihadists in deadly attacks.

On Tuesday, Russia finally confirmed that the Russian passenger jet that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing 224 people, had been brought down by a bomb, though it did not name any responsible group.

The Kremlin said Putin and Hollande had “agreed to assure closer contact and coordination between the military and security service agencies of the two countries in actions versus terrorist groups… in Syria”.

The alliance comes as international players meet to discuss ways of ending the Syrian war, which has actually spurred the rise of the Islamic State group, forced millions into exile and triggered Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
On a solidarity visit to Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a “big transition” in Syria was probably only weeks away after Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia reached agreement at the weekend on a path towards elections.
Still, regime and opposition representatives have yet to sit down together and there is little agreement on the role of Assad in any transition, a key sticking point in the talks.
Back in the United States, more than half of all state governors on Tuesday took steps to force the White Estate to freeze programmes to resettle Syrian and Iraqi refugees, citing concerns about attacks.

Highlighting US fears over the attack, two Air France flights bound for Paris from the United States were diverted Tuesday and landed safely after anonymous threats the carrier called a “bomb scare.”