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Wednesday, November 18, 2015, 22:48

Two dead in Paris manhunt

By Agencies

Two dead in Paris manhunt

SAINT-DENIS, France - Amid gunfire and explosions, police raided a suburban Paris apartment where they believed the suspected mastermind of last week's attacks was holed up. The siege ended Wednesday with two deaths and seven arrests but no clear information on the fugitive's fate.

The dead were a woman who blew herself up with an explosive vest and a man hit by projectiles and grenades, the Paris prosecutor said at the end of the seven-hour siege in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said the raid was launched after information from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated that the suspected planner of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, might be in a safe house in the district.

Authorities could not immediately confirm whether Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamic State militant, was killed or arrested Wednesday morning.

Investigators have identified 27-year-old Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday's attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and injured 350 others.

Speaking at the scene of Wednesday's raid, Molins said the operation began with a pre-dawn shootout and resulted in the capture of three people inside the apartment, the death of a woman who set off an explosive charge, and the death of "another terrorist ... who was hit by projectiles and grenades."

He said two people were detained while trying to hide in the rubble, and two others were also arrested, including the man who had provided the apartment and one of his acquaintances. Police at the scene were seen escorting away one man who was naked from the waist down, and another wrapped in a gold emergency blanket.

Molins and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve did not specify whether any suspects might still be at large.

A police official not authorized to be publicly named because of police rules said four police officers were injured.

French President Francois Hollande praised the bravery of the security services and said that France was "at war."

Residents said an explosion shook the neighborhood at about 4 am local time (0300GMT).

Sporadic bangs and explosions continued, and at 7:30 am local time (0630GMT) 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.

Two dead in Paris manhunt
Police operation in Saint-Denis, near Paris on Nov 18, 2015, five days after Paris terror attacks. (Photo / AFP)

In Saint-Denis on Wednesday, 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 Wednesday.

Seven attackers died in Friday's attacks, which targeted several bars and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall, as well as the national stadium. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage.

Police have identified one subject of their manhunt as Salah Abdeslam, whom French police accidentally permitted to cross into Belgium on Saturday. One of his brothers, Brahim, blew himself up in Paris.

Meanwhile, French fighter jets attacked Islamic State targets in Syria for a third night. The French defense ministry said 10 jets had hit two Islamic State command centers in the militants' base of Raqqa, Syria.

The Paris attacks have galvanized international determination to confront the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, bringing France, Russia and the United States closer to an alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start cooperating with the French military on operations in Syria.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a cease-fire between Syria's government and the opposition could be just weeks away. He described it as potentially a "gigantic step" toward deeper international cooperation against IS.

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