Two Suspects Die as Police Raid Apartment in Search of Presumed Paris Attacks Mastermind

PARIS—Heavy gunfire rang out in a suburb north of the city through the morning Wednesday as French police laid siege to an apartment, seeking the presumed mastermind behind the deadly Paris attacks. Two suspects died and seven were detained during an operation that lasted over seven hours.

A woman blew herself up at the start of the dawn raid in Saint-Denis, close to the national soccer stadium that was targeted in Friday night’s attacks, and police said another terror suspect was killed.

Telephone records, intelligence and witnesses led investigators to think the Belgian-born Islamic State operative Abdelhamid Abaaoud could be taking refuge in the apartment, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said.

Mr. Molins said neither the suspects detained nor those killed could be immediately identified.

If confirmed, Mr. Abaaoud’s presence so close to the scene of the Paris attacks would deepen concerns about Europe’s security, and raise questions over how an Islamic State operative who featured prominently on Western military’s target lists slipped back through borders to sow terror in the heart of the continent.

Addressing a conference of France’s mayors, President François Hollande lauded police and said they had encountered unexpected violent resistance.

“A particularly perilous, substantial operation has just ended,” Mr. Hollande said. “The police that undertook the operation knew the dangers. But they probably underestimated the violence they were met with.”

Police descended at 4:20 a.m. on the narrow street in the heart of the commercial district of Saint-Denis, a gritty neighborhood of Paris with a dense Muslim population. Soldiers in fatigues and elite police with heavy machine guns secured a perimeter.

As police moved in to the scene, one of the suspects in the apartment—a woman—shot back at police using a Kalashnikov before detonating a suicide vest. Sounds of heavy gunfire were heard intermittently in the surrounding area.

“There were lights and laser beams coming toward us,” a woman who lives in the apartment below where the raid was taking place told French radio. “There were explosions and you could feel the building shaking.”

The woman, who identified herself as Yasmine, said she heard men shouting “reload, reload” as she lay on the ground with her baby.

Later, injured police officers were shown limping away from the scene, aided by colleagues. Authorities advised residents near the sports arena to stay indoors.

French government spokesman Stéphane le Foll said at around 11:45am that the raid was over.

Police detained three men who were holed up in the apartment, and four people nearby.

A man claiming to be the occupant of the apartment raided by police at 48 Rue du Corbillion, was interviewed on French news channel BFMTV near the scene.

“I didn’t know they were terrorists,” the man said. “I was asked to put up two people for three days, I did a favor.” One police official said the man has since been detained.

As the raid took place, Mr. Hollande met at the Élysée Palace with Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve. The weekly cabinet meeting went ahead as usual.

Mr. Abaaoud is one of two people who have emerged at the center of the probe into the attacks that killed 129 people on Friday.

French and Belgian authorities are also searching for Salah Abdeslam, who they say took part in the attacks.

Dutch police said Wednesday he was fined €70 ($75) after police found a small quantity of “soft drugs” during a routine roadside check in early February. He was accompanied by one of his brothers and another man while they were traveling to Belgium, police said.

The names of Mr. Abdeslam and his companions, who were traveling in a Belgium-registered car, were carefully checked but they didn’t show up in the police records at the time, the police said.

On Sept. 9, Mr. Abdeslam was stopped and questioned upon entering Austria from Germany by car with two other men. Mr. Abdeslam said he was on his way to a one-week vacation in Austria, Austrian authorities said Tuesday.

After watching surveillance video footage and videos shot by victims and passersby, investigators say they now believe that three people were in a car that dropped off a suicide bomber near a restaurant in eastern Paris on Friday night. French authorities initially thought only two people were in the car: Mr. Abdeslam and his brother, Brahim Abdeslam, who blew himself up in front of the restaurant.

The presence of three men suggests the group was comprised of at least nine people, including seven suicide bombers who carried out the Friday night massacre. Paris prosecutors Tuesday cautioned that the group of participants may have been even larger.


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