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Paris attack 'mastermind' killed in police raid

19 November 2015, 18:51

Paris - The Islamic State jihadist suspected of masterminding the Paris attacks was killed during a major police raid, prosecutors confirmed Thursday, as French lawmakers voted to extend a state of emergency imposed after the carnage.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud was killed in Wednesday's assault by elite police units on an apartment in northern Paris, which left at least two people dead.

Handprint analysis was used to identify the Belgian's body, which was found among the rubble of the shattered building after officers rained fire and grenades on the jihadists in a seven-hour siege.

"Abdelhamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified... as having been killed during the raid" the Paris prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he welcomed the death of "one of the masterminds" of the attacks.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Wednesday that the raid in Saint-Denis had stopped a "new team of terrorists" who were ready to launch another attack in a city still mourning 129 dead.

At least two bodies were found after the ferocious shootout, including what is thought to be a woman who detonated an explosives vest.

Valls warned of the dangers still faced by France as lawmakers voted on extending an extraordinary package of security measures for three months.

"We must not rule anything out. There is also the risk from chemical or biological weapons," Valls said.

He called on France's European Union partners to urgently adopt measures to share airline passenger information.

The decision by lawmakers Thursday means the state of emergency will be in place for three months from November 26.

The measures include allowing police to carry weapons when they are off duty and use them in the event of an attack -- providing they wear a police armband to avoid "any confusion", according to a directive seen by AFP.

French MPs also voted to allow the government to block websites and social media under the state of emergency.

At least 129 people were killed in the shootings and suicide bombings that targeted a concert hall, bars and restaurants and the Stade de France national stadium, Europe's second deadliest terror attack in history after the 2004 Madrid bombings.

As the Paris probe widened to countries across Europe, Belgian police staged six raids in the Brussels area linked to a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the French stadium, prosecutors said.

Italy was also hunting five suspects after an FBI tip-off about possible jihadist attacks on landmark sites including St Peter's cathedral in the Vatican, the foreign minister said.

Eight suspects were arrested in the massive Saint-Denis raid which killed Abaaoud, but another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, remains unaccounted for.

Abdeslam is thought to be one of the only surviving members of the Paris attacks gang. His suicide-bomber brother Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up in a cafe but did not kill anyone else.

As international efforts to fight the Islamic State group stepped up, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Russia was "sincere" in wanting to cooperate against IS, despite deep divisions on whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stay in power.

"There is an opening, so to speak, with the Russians. We think they are sincere and we must bring together all our forces," he told France Inter radio.

US intelligence meanwhile published a report showing it warned in May that IS was capable of carrying out the kind of large-scale coordinated attacks seen in Paris.

The assessment from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, in coordination with the FBI, specifically refers to Abaaoud as a ringleader of Belgian plotters and warned Europe was more at risk of attack than the United States.

Abaaoud was previously thought to be in Syria after fleeing raids in his native Belgium earlier this year.

IS released a new video threatening New York, and specifically Times Square, although police said there was no "current and specific" threat.

Hours after President Francois Hollande had urged the nation not to resort to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic reprisals in the wake of the attacks, a Jewish teacher was stabbed and wounded in Marseille by three people shouting anti-Semitic obscenities and expressing support for IS.

France is coming to terms with being attacked for a second time in less than year. In January, jihadist gunmen killed 17 people at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, on the streets and in a Jewish supermarket.

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Citing security fears, the government has cancelled two mass rallies scheduled for November 29 and December 12 -- the days before and after a key UN climate summit to be held outside Paris.



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