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Officials: Paris Attacks Mastermind Killed in Raid

  • VOA Staff

An undated photograph of a man described as Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State's online magazine Dabiq and posted on a social media website.

An undated photograph of a man described as Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State's online magazine Dabiq and posted on a social media website.

French prosecutors have confirmed that the suspected mastermind of last week's Paris attacks was among those killed in a police raid on Wednesday.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, was one of the people inside an apartment stormed in the seven-hour police raid in the suburb of Saint-Denis.

Meanwhile, French lawmakers voted Thursday to extend the country's state of emergency for three months in the wake of last Friday's attacks.

The French National Assembly approved the measure, and the country's Senate is expected to vote on it Friday.

Chemical attack warning

Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Manuel Valls addressed lawmakers and warned of dangers the country faced, including the possible threat of chemical or biological weapons.

President Francois Hollande said Wednesday the extension includes a provision that enables authorities to close "any association or gathering," which includes mosques and community groups, where people are "glorifying terrorism" or encouraging people to carry out terrorist acts.

The bill has drawn criticism from rights activists.

Police officials said Thursday that as long as the emergency is in effect, off-duty officers are allowed to carry their weapons in order to protect civilians.

Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union's police coordination agency, also highlighted the scale of the Paris attacks in comments Thursday, saying they mark "a very serious escalation" of terrorism in Europe and are a "clear statement" of the Islamic State group's intent to bring its brutal brand of terror to the continent.

Belgium raid

Belgian authorities launched their own raids Thursday in several parts of Brussels connected to Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the stadium. Officials said the operation focused on Hadfi's family, friends and others linked to him.

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel also announced a $427 million package of new security measures, including plans to jail militants who return from Syria, banning hate preachers and closing unregistered places of worship.

Michel fought back against criticism of his country's security services after Hollande said the Paris attacks were planned in Belgium.

"I do not accept the criticism seeking to disparage our security services, who do a difficult and tough job," he said in an address to parliament.

'At war' with terrorism

Shortly after the Wednesday's siege ended, French President Francois Hollande said France is “at war” with terrorism, but warned against overreactions. “No xenophobic, anti-Semite, anti-Muslim act must be tolerated," he said.

Hollande urged people to defy terrorists by resuming life in full, and promised increased security to ensure popular sites can reopen. France will "remain a country of freedoms," he said.

Speaking to a gathering of French mayors, Hollande said he wants to build a large coalition to target the Islamic State militants, and he outlined a series of measures to fight the group, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hollande is scheduled to discuss ways to intensify the campaign targeting IS with U.S. President Barack Obama next week in Washington, and is to meet November 26 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, center, addresses Belgium's parliament announcing security measures after the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Nov. 19, 2015.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, center, addresses Belgium's parliament announcing security measures after the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Nov. 19, 2015.

Fugitive Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim, who died during the attacks, rented three cars from Belgium to carry out the Paris operations, police said. They found them in different spots around the capital and outskirts, with a stash of assault weapons.

They also found a cellphone in a garbage can near the Bataclan music hall, where the bloodiest attack took place, with a text message reading, “Let’s go.”

Raids, arrests

French police said Wednesday they have carried out 414 raids and made 60 arrests, while seizing 75 weapons since last Friday.

In addition, 118 others have been placed under house arrest, another of the new powers permitted under France's state of emergency that was declared Saturday.

Officials said Wednesday that all 129 victims of the attacks last Friday have been identified.

Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.

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