A predawn raid on an apartment in a northern Parisian suburb aimed at capturing the alleged mastermind of the Friday night massacres left two suspected militants dead – one blew herself up, another was killed by a grenade – and injured five police officers.

Seven people were arrested in the raid in the heart of St. Denis, only two kilometres from the Stade de France, one of the six sites of the Friday night massacres that killed 129 people.

The target of the raid was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin who is thought to be the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, French police said. But it was not clear whether he was in the St. Denis apartment at the time of the raid. One media report said he was not.

It was thought Mr. Abaaoud had been in Syria. But intelligence reports that led police to the St. Denis apartment “gave the impression that Abaaoud was likely to be there,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after the raid officially ended in the mid-morning.

The raid may also have targeted Salah Abdeslam, the subject of an international manhunt. He was linked to the Friday attacks; his brother Ibrahim, blew himself up on Boulevard Voltaire next to the Comptoir Voltaire Café.

Of the seven arrested in St. Denis, three were arrested inside the apartment. Two were arrested nearby and are thought to be the apartment landlords. Police made another two arrests. None of those arrested was identified.

“As a result of [telephone surveillance], an arrest operation was launched overnight, ending in a gunfight…and firstly with three people arrested in the flat, the explosion of a woman via suicide vest and another suspect hit by projectiles and grenades,” said Paris prosecutor François Moulins.

Europe 1 radio said police found weapons, explosives, suicide vests and plans for another attack in the flat, suggesting that planning for another attack was under way.

A police dog named Diesel was killed in the raid.

The raid, using elite French police, started around 4:30 a.m. on Rue de Corbillon, not far from the Gothic Basilica of St. Denis, the main tourist attraction in an otherwise dreary, poor suburb. Local residents told The Globe and Mail that they were startled awake by the noise of a battle that one said sounded like a “war.”

Foysal Ahmed, 30, a Bangladeshi restaurant worker who has lived in St. Denis for several years, said, “We heard explosions, gunfire, just before 5 in the morning. It was loud and I was frightened. I went in the bathroom to hide.”

Residents said they heard half a dozen or more explosions. Apartment buildings near the raided apartment were evacuated and heavily armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets as helicopters circled overhead. At one point, shortly after 8 a.m., police went charging down streets near the basilica but apparently made no arrest at that time.

According to France 2 TV, police identified the St. Denis apartment using a mobile phone that was found outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 89 people were killed on Friday.

Mr. Cazeneuve said, “I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in the operation, 110 in total, who acted with bravery and under heavy fire in conditions that they had never experienced before.”

More to come

ST. DENIS, FRANCE — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015 5:11AM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015 9:13AM EST