The mastermind behind the Paris terror attacks was killed Wednesday during a massive, pre-dawn police raid on an apartment where he was hiding out — and possibly plotting another wave of violence against the City of Light.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, was blown away when more than 100 cops and soldiers stormed the building just north of Paris and near the Stade de France soccer stadium that was among the targets of last week’s bloodbath, the Washington Post reported.
A woman wearing an explosive vest blew herself up and seven people were arrested during the operation that also killed a police dog named Diesel.
The jihadists holed up in a Paris suburb apartment had been planning to attack Charles de Gaulle Airport and a shopping mall before a special forces team stopped them in the nick of time Wednesday, French media reported.
The raid was launched after information from tapped phone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated Abaaoud might be in the apartment in Saint-Denis, French
The terrorists in the apartment were planning a strike at the Paris airport and the Mall of Quatre Temps in La Défense (Hauts-de-Seine), according to France 2. prosecutor Francois Molins said.
The raid resulted in the collapse of an entire floor of the apartment building, where authorities found body parts, the source told CNN.
Police were seen escorting away a man who was naked from the waist down, and another wrapped in a gold emergency blanket.
“As things stand, it is impossible to give you the identities of the people detained, which are being verified,” Molins said at the scene. “All will be done to determine who is who, and based on the work of forensic police, we’ll tell you who was in the apartment — and what consequences it will have for the development of the investigation.”
French President François Hollande praised the bravery of the forces and said that France was “at war.”
“It is the entire country that’s been attacked,” Hollande told a gathering of French mayors. “For what it represents, the fight we are leading to eradicate terrorism. And simply for what we are.”
A standoff continued for more than seven hours — with gunfire and loud bangs reverberating throughout the historic suburb.
Four police officers were slightly injured and a SWAT team dog, a Malinois named Diesel, was shot dead by terrorists in the action, police said.
“The operation is over,” government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said about 6 a.m. EST.
The city of Saint-Denis also tweeted that a security perimeter was still set up — warning residents not to leave their homes.
A police official said he believed the Belgian Islamic State jihadist was in the apartment along with five others when the raid was launched not far from the Stade de France, where three of the seven attackers blew themselves up on Friday.
A White House official said President Obama, who is in Manila for an economic summit, has been briefed on the raid.
French media also reported that authorities zeroed in on the Saint-Denis apartment from information they retrieved from one of the attackers’ cellphones that was found in a trash can near the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people were massacred.
Seven attackers died in Friday’s attacks, which targeted several bars and restaurants and the Bataclan, as well as the national stadium.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the carnage.
A man arrested Wednesday during the raid told AFP that he had lent the apartment to the men as a favor to a friend.
“I said that there was no mattress, they told me, ‘It’s not a problem,’ they just wanted water and to pray,” the man said, the New York Times reported.
Djamila Khaldi, 54, a cashier who lives near a Gothic basilica nearby, was preparing to take her daughter to the airport when gunfire erupted, the New York Times reported.
She told the paper she was not surprised authorities had tracked the suspects to the neighborhood. She said a friend believed she had seen one of the suspected terrorists, Salah Abdeslam, on Monday.
“She was terrified and she looked at another woman knowing that she recognized him too,” Khaldi told the Times. “They did not dare to go to the police.”
Abaaoud was believed to be in Syria after a January police raid in Belgium, but bragged in ISIS propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.
Hollande held an emergency meeting with senior ministers at the Elysee Palace to monitor the raid.
“We guessed it was linked to Friday night,” said Yves Steux, barman at L’escargot restaurant near the raid. “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.”
A US official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an Islamic State external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.
In Saint-Denis on Wednesday, cops cordoned off the area nearby, including a pedestrian zone lined with shops and 19th-century apartment buildings. Riot police cleared people from the streets, pointing guns at curious residents to move them off the roads.
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 attackers took part in the deadly rampage.
On Tuesday, officials told the AP they believed at least one other attacker was involved and they were working to identify and track down that suspect.
Surveillance video obtained by the AP also indicated that a team of three attackers carried out the shootings at one of the cafes. The video was among evidence authorities used in concluding that at least one other attacker was at large, the French officials indicated.
The brief clip shows two black-clad gunmen with automatic weapons firing on the bar, then returning toward a waiting car, whose driver was maneuvering behind them.
Authorities believe the car is the same black SEAT-make vehicle that was found Saturday with three Kalashnikovs inside.
Police have identified one subject of their manhunt as Abdeslam, whom French police accidentally permitted to cross into Belgium on Saturday. One of his brothers, Brahim, blew himself up in Paris.
Meanwhile, French fighter jets attacked Islamic State targets in Syria for a third night. The French Defense Ministry said 10 jets had hit two Islamic State command centers in the militants’ base of Raqqa, Syria.
France — and the rest of Europe — remained 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.