Tensions remain high across Europe as French security forces faced off against a group of terrorists in a Paris suburb early Wednesday morning.
A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up Wednesday as heavily-armed police tried to storm a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind of last week’s Islamic terror attacks was believed to be holed up, French police said.
They said one man was also killed and seven people arrested in the standoff, which began before dawn and continued for more than seven hours, with gunfire and large bangs sporadically ringing out near the apartment building in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said just before noon that “the operation is over.” The fate of the suspected Paris attacks planner, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was unclear.
A senior police official said he believed Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist, was inside the apartment with five other heavily armed people when the raid started.
Abaaoud was believed to be in Syria after a January police raid in Belgium, but bragged in Islamic State propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.
The official said scores of police stormed the building and were met with unexpectedly violent resistance.
Another police official said four police officers were injured. No hostages were being held.
A senior police official and the Paris prosecutor’s office said SWAT teams arrested seven people in the building. They did not identify them.
French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting with senior ministers at the Elysee Palace to monitor the raid.
Residents said an explosion shook the neighborhood shortly after 4 a.m. local time.
“We guessed it was linked to Friday night,” said Yves Steux, barman at L’escargot restaurant 250 meters (yards) from the assault. “My wife panicked and was scared and told me not to leave, but I ignored her. Life goes on.”
Baptiste Marie, a 26-year-old independent journalist who lives in the neighborhood, said a second large explosion was followed by “two more explosions. There was an hour of gunfire.”
Another witness, Amine Guizani, said he heard the sound of grenades and automatic gunfire.
“It was continuous. It didn’t stop,” he said. “It lasted from 4:20 until 5:30. It was a good hour. I couldn’t say how many shots were fired, but it was probably 500. Hundreds, definitely. There were maybe 10 explosions.”
Sporadic bangs and explosions continued, and at 7:30 a.m. at least seven explosions shook the center of Saint-Denis. Associated Press reporters at the scene could hear what sounded like grenade blasts from the direction of the standoff.
Investigators have identified 27-year-old Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday’s attacks in Paris, which killed 132 people and injured 350 others.
A US official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an ISIS external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.
Police vans and fire trucks rushed to the scene north of Paris, less than two kilometers from the Stade de France stadium. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up Friday near the stadium during an international soccer match with Hollande in attendance.
Saint-Denis Mayor Didier Paillard said public transport was suspended and that schools in the center of town would not open Wednesday.
Global Tensions Remain High
Seven terrorists died in Friday’s attacks, which targeted several bars and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall, as well as the national stadium. ISIS group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Police had said before the raids that they were hunting for two fugitives suspected of taking part as well as any accomplices. That would bring the number of terrorists to at least nine.
French authorities had previously said that at least eight people were directly involved in the bloodshed: seven who died in the attacks and one who got away and slipped across the border to Belgium.
However, there have been gaps in officials’ public statements, which have never fully disclosed how many terrorists took part in the deadly rampage.
Meanwhile, French fighter jets attacked ISIS targets in Syria for a third night. The French defense ministry said 10 jets had hit two Islamic State command centers in ISIS’ capital of Raqqa.
The Paris attacks have galvanized international determination to confront the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, bringing France, Russia and the United States closer to an alliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start cooperating with the French military on operations in Syria.
France — and the rest of Europe — remain on edge four days after the attacks. Two Air France flights bound for Paris from the US were diverted Tuesday night — one to Salt Lake City and one to Halifax — because of anonymous threats received after they had taken off. Both were inspected and cleared to resume their journeys.
In the German city of Hannover, a soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled at the last minute and the stadium evacuated by police because of a bomb threat.
Lower Saxony state Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said the match was called off after “vague” information that solidified late in the day.
No arrests have been made and no explosives found. Pistorius said this may be because the plot was called off after the game was canceled.
“We won’t know what would have happened if we didn’t cancel it,” he said.