Friday 24 February 2017

Security forces found a 'total war arsenal' in Paris raid apartment

*Prosecutor speaks after Saint-Denis raid
*Belgian jihadist Abaaoud 'not among those arrested'
*US media reports Abaaoud is dead
*Paris police fired staggering 5,000 rounds of ammunition
*Eight people arrested, at least two killed
*Precise number of dead not yet known

Gordon Raynor

Bullet holes and smashed windows are pictured on the back side of the house after an intervention of security forces against a group of extremists in Saint-Denis, near Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Bullet holes and smashed windows are pictured on the back side of the house after an intervention of security forces against a group of extremists in Saint-Denis, near Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Abdelhamid Abaaoud had links to previous planned attacks
Suspected attack mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud. 'The link between Abaaoud and Brussels-based Saleh Abdeslam constitutes a worrying development for Europe’s security services: that precisely planned attacks involving several people and sophisticated logistics can be orchestrated from Isis’s power base inside Syria'
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud. (Militant Photo via AP)

French security forces found “a total war arsenal” including “assault rifles of the Kalashnikov model and explosive belts” in the Saint-Denis flat raided this morning.

The police assault in Saint-Denis was in two adjacent flats. The assault was "extremely difficult", as the armoured door did not come down straight away, allowing the terrorists to get ready to respond, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a press conference today.

Police fired 5,000 rounds of ammunition during the early morning raid.

The raid was so violent police must wait on DNA results to confirm the identities of the two terrorists who were killed, the Telegraph reports.

It has emerged that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris terrorist attacks, was not among those arrested during police raids this morning.

US media are reporting Abaaoud was killed during the morning raid but it has yet to be confirmed if he is among the dead.

Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Salah Abdeslam, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud
Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Salah Abdeslam, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Prosecutor Francois Molins also said the precise number of dead in the Saint-Denis raid is not known.

"Since last Friday 830 police have been leading the investigation," Molins said.

"The investigation has considerably progressed. Another terrorist unit has been neutralised. Everything leads us to believe that given their weaponry, and level of preparation that they were ready to act."

He described how Friday's attackers got to Paris:

"[There were] three coordinated commandos."

"Three vehicles, Polo, Seat, Clio all arrived in Paris in a convoy in 10-minute intervals from Belgium on Friday. All the cars were rented in Belgium."

Suspected attack mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud. 'The link between Abaaoud and Brussels-based Saleh Abdeslam constitutes a worrying development for Europe’s security services: that precisely planned attacks involving several people and sophisticated logistics can be orchestrated from Isis’s power base inside Syria'
Suspected attack mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud. 'The link between Abaaoud and Brussels-based Saleh Abdeslam constitutes a worrying development for Europe’s security services: that precisely planned attacks involving several people and sophisticated logistics can be orchestrated from Isis’s power base inside Syria'

A dawn raid on an apartment block in the Saint-Denis area of the city on Wednesday was aimed at arresting Abaaoud, who it had previously been assumed was in Syria.

A woman believed to be his cousin blew herself up when police stormed a flat in Saint-Denis, and inside were suicide vests, guns and plans for a second attack.

Following phone surveillance of Abaaoud's female cousin Hasna Aitboulahcn, police raided the apartment when they believed the terrorists were at their most vunerable.

But a reinforced door held out against the explosives placed against it and a seven-hour siege began.

This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud. (Militant Photo via AP)
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud. (Militant Photo via AP)

At 4.45, police got their first breakthrough, when they gained control of a second suspect apartment and arrested three men inside.

But the main target flat was still difficult to enter. Police sent Diesel, a seven-year-old German Sheperd police dog into the building at approximately 5am to tackle the terrorists but he was shot dead.

The female terrorist Aitboulahcn is also reported to have appeared at a window of the flat shouting 'Help me', she is believed to have been attempting to lure police inside.

At 6am the elite RAID squads began a fresh attack on the apartment building.

It is reported this is when the female detonated her suicide vest, causing the floor of the apartment to collapse.

A second terrorist, reported by some media outlets to be Abaaoud, was killed as the battle ensued.

“It was an extremely difficult assault, because the armoured door did not give way straight away to police explosives, thus allowing the terrorists to prepare their riposte," prosecutor Francois Molins said.

"Very heavy, almost uninterrupted gunfire ensued for almost an hour. I can tell you that on the police side we fired almost 5,000 munitions.”

Police used a small robot equipped with a camera to enter the apartment and see if there were any remaining people inside.

Another fresh attack began at 7.30am, with approximately 110 specialist officers at the scene.

Police discovered two suspects hiding in the debris and managed to take them out of the building alive.

Police confirmed the operation ended at 11.30am, after completing a security check of the surrounding area.

Who is Abdelhamid Abaaoud?

The 29-year-old Belgian is linked to a string of previous attacks in France, and police missed a golden opportunity to arrest him earlier this year when they allowed him to escape to Syria. He claims to have been stopped by an official who failed to recognise him.

It was one of a series of missed chances by the French and Belgian security services to foil the Paris atrocities.

One of the suicide bombers, Samy Amimour, was on a watch list of suspected terrorists after attempting to travel to Yemen three years ago, but was able to get back into France from Syria undetected to take part in the attack on the Bataclan concert hall.

French officials have also confirmed that America warned them in September that an attack was imminent, though the details were described as “vague”. The previous month, however, a terrorist who was arrested before he could carry out orders from Abaaoud to attack “a concert hall” told police other attacks were imminent.

Abaaoud, 29, is said to have planned the Paris atrocities from Syria, where he is fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He is reported to have been on a list of targets for French air strikes since September.

Intelligence failures appear to have allowed Abaaoud to act with impunity. He had travelled to Syria in 2013, then returned to Belgium via Greece. He was able to leave Belgium undetected and return to Syria, a round trip he made several other times, he says.

He is related to Ibrahim Abdeslam, one of the suicide bombers in Friday’s attack, and in 2010 spent time in jail with Abdeslam’s brother Salah, currently Europe’s most wanted man after going on the run after the attacks. They are childhood friends, having grown up in the same Molenbeek district of Brussels as several of the other suspects.

Abaaoud’s family had previously announced that he was dead, but police now think that claim was false.

Abaaoud was the main target of a major police raid on a terrorist cell in Verviers, Belgium, in January in which two jihadists were killed. It was carried out within days of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, though police said the two events were not linked.

He was sentenced to 20 years in absentia along with 32 other jihadists. The Belgian cell was said to have been planning a major terrorist attack, including abducting and beheading a prominent law enforcement official and posting a video of it online.

Police believe Abaaoud helped arrange a terrorist attack on an Amsterdam to Paris train on August 21, which was thwarted by four passengers including British businessman Chris Norman. The French newspaper Liberation claimed he was in contact with Ayoub El-Khazzani, the man who opened fire in a carriage of the train before he was overwhelmed by passengers.

He is also thought to have plotted an attack on a church in Paris on April 19, when Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a French IT student, was arrested after shooting himself in the leg. After following a trail of blood to a nearby vehicle, police found a car containing “an arsenal of weapons of war”, according to the French interior ministry.

Ghlam was later charged with the murder of Aurelie Chatelain, a dance instructor who was found inside her own burning car after being shot three times in the head in what police thought was a bungled carjacking.

According to Le Monde, Abaaoud was also in contact with Mehdi Nemmouche, who carried out an attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, killing four people. Analysis of telephone calls is said to have shown the two men spoke in January 2014.

Le Monde also claimed a French jihadist called Reda Hame, who was arrested on August 11, named Abaaoud as the man who had sent him to Europe to carry out a terrorist attack after he had been to Syria and trained for six days in Raqqa, the Isil stronghold.

He said Abaaoud told him to travel via Prague to avoid being detected and gave him a USB stick containing encryption software and 2,000 euros with instructions to hit an “easy” target such as “a concert hall” to ensure the “maximum number of victims”.

Asked whether other attacks were in the pipeline, Hame told police: “All I can say is that this will happen very soon. It was a real factory out there and they will really try to hit France and Europe.”

A source close to the French investigation into Abaaoud said of him: "He appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe.”

Earlier this year Abaaoud boasted in an Isil magazine about masterminding terrorist plots under the noses of the Belgian security services before returning to Syria.

Abaaoud, who uses the alias Abu Omar Al-Baljiki, told Dabiq magazine: “I was able to leave … despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies. All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence.

“My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”

He said he and two fellow jihadis travelled to Belgium to “terrorise the crusaders waging war against the Muslims”.

He said: “We faced a number of trials during the journey. We spent months trying to find a way into Europe, and by Allah’s strength, we succeeded in finally making our way to Belgium.

“We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders.”

Abaaoud said he was stopped during the journey by “an officer” after a picture of him fighting for Isil was published in Belgian media, but the officer “let me go, as he did not see the resemblance,” he said. He did not say when or where he was stopped.

He boasted that he had been able to plan terror attacks against westerners while living in Belgium and being wanted by intelligence agencies when he travelled to Syria in January 2014.

Abaaoud was described as a happy-go-lucky study who went to one of Brussels’ most prestigious high schools, Saint-Pierre d’Uccle.

As a boy growing up in the Molenbeek district of Brussels he played with Salah Abdeslam, now wanted by police in connection with the Paris attacks. His father Omar is a grocer there and he is reported to have taken his 13-year-old brother Younes with him to Syria in January 2014.

He has been used as a major recruiting tool by Isil to attract other Belgians to the terrorist network.

He enjoys boasting about his exploits, appearing in an Isil video smiling at the wheel of a pick-up truck taking eight mutilated bodies to a mass grave.

Telegraph.co.uk

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