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2 Killed in Raid Targeting Mastermind of Paris Attacks

  • VOA Staff

French special police forces secure the area as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris, during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the capital, Nov. 18, 2015.

French special police forces secure the area as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris, during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the capital, Nov. 18, 2015.

A police raid in a Paris suburb ended after seven hours Wednesday with two people dead, seven arrested and the fate of the suspected mastermind of last Friday's attack in the French capital unclear.

A government spokeswoman announced around midday the raid at an apartment in Saint-Denis was over.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Mollins confirmed the officials were seeking Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, but did not immediately confirm if Abaaoud was at the site.

The Paris prosecutor's office issued a statement saying the dead included a woman who detonated her explosive vest. Another seven people were detained during the raid that targeted an apartment in the central part of town.

WATCH: Related video from Saint-Denis by VOA's Daniel Schearf

Three police officers were injured and a police dog was killed during the operation.

Prosecutor Molins said authorities were working to verify the identities of those involved.

At war with IS

Also Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande said his country is at war with terrorism from the Islamic State group and wants to build a large coalition to target the militants.

Hollande spoke shortly after the seven-hour police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis ended.

In his address to a gathering of mayors, the president said the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is being sent to aid French military operations in Syria against the Islamic State group.

Crowd at standoff as riot policeman watches in Saint-Denis, Paris, Nov. 18, 2015. (D. Schearf/VOA)

Crowd at standoff as riot policeman watches in Saint-Denis, Paris, Nov. 18, 2015. (D. Schearf/VOA)

French warplanes continued bombing Islamic State targets in Syria late Tuesday, striking at targets in the group's de facto capital in Raqqa. The defense ministry said 10 of its jets took part in the latest airstrikes and bombed two command centers.

Authorities are also looking for other suspects tied to the November 13 attacks that killed 129 people and injured more than 300 others.

Suspected mastermind Abaaoud, who has been linked to other terrorist operations, was previously reported to be in Syria.

Reports suggest he may have traveled to Europe at least once this year, underscoring larger concerns about intelligence lapses and the security risk posed by returning jihadists.

Three officials, who spoke late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details about the ongoing investigation, said an analysis of Friday's attacks indicated one person directly involved was unaccounted for.

The officials said that fugitive has not been identified.

French and Belgian authorities have issued a warrant for another person, Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam, whose brother was among the attackers who died.

Seven attackers died that night, three around the national stadium, three inside the Bataclan concert venue, and one at a restaurant nearby during attacks.

French President Francois Hollande, center, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, right, walk through the lobby of the Elysee Palace after the weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, Nov. 18, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande, center, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, right, walk through the lobby of the Elysee Palace after the weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, Nov. 18, 2015.

A team of gunmen also opened fire at a series of nightspots in one of Paris' trendiest neighborhoods, officials said.

Paris police also said Tuesday 16 people have been arrested and detained in the region since Sunday in relation to the attacks, and six firearms have been seized since a state of emergency was declared on Saturday.

A third Abdeslam brother, Mohammed, was briefly detained over the weekend by police.

'Turn himself in'

Speaking with a French television station Tuesday, Mohammed Abdeslam said, "We're family, we're thinking of him, we're wondering where he is, whether he's scared, is he eating. ... The best outcome would be for him to turn himself in so that judicial processes can shed light on this story."

Authorities believe that about 20 people were involved in planning and carrying out the attacks.

Also Tuesday, investigators identified the voice of a French jihadi convert, Fabien Clain, 36, of Toulouse, on the Islamic State claim of responsibility for the Paris strike. Clain is suspected of having been behind a failed attack on a church in the Paris suburb of Villejuif early this year.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday the militants "will feel even greater pressure" in the coming weeks as the United States, France and other allies increase their efforts against them.

Kerry spoke in Paris after meeting with French President Francois Hollande.

The French leader is due to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington November 24 to discuss ways to ramp up the campaign targeting the Islamic State group.

French President Francois Hollande, left, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, pose upon arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Nov. 17, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande, left, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, pose upon arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Nov. 17, 2015.

They will discuss U.S. efforts to assist in the investigation of the attacks and further cooperation among the U.S.-led, anti-IS coalition, the White House said, adding, "This visit will underscore the friendship and solidarity between the United States and France, our oldest ally."

Diverted flights

Air France confirmed two of its flights from the U.S. to Paris were diverted and landed safely late Tuesday after being the subjects of anonymous threats.

The airline did not describe the specific threats, which came in after the planes took off, but said it decided to have them land "as a precautionary measure and to conduct all security checks."

One flight from Los Angeles landed in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that authorities found no credible threat. The other flight, which took off from Washington, was diverted to Halifax, Canada.

Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.

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