Here are the latest details related to the French police raid on suspected terrorists in a Paris suburb, as well as the larger fight involving ISIS and the West:
• Two of the seven terror suspects detained in Wednesday’s raids in Saint-Denis are hospitalized, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told France Info radio. The woman who blew herself up during that operation is a cousin of suspected Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, according to Belgian state broadcaster RTBF.
• The terror threat level in Sweden has been raised to its second highest level — from 3 to 4, on a scale up to 5 — according to the Swedish security service.
• Authorities in Europe are being asked to be on the lookout for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman wanted in connection with last week’s attacks in Paris. According to an alert from Spanish authorities obtained by CNN, French authorities believe Abdeslam may be driving a Citroen Xsara car in the southwestern part of the country, near the Spanish border.
• Russia’s armed forces will organize joint military operations with the French navy “to combat terrorists in Syria,” Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported, citing army official Andrey Kartapolov.
Paris attacks: What you need to know
For the second time in a week, gunfire and explosions ripped through France on Wednesday — this time in an hours-long ordeal that ended with at least two terror suspects dead, seven detained, new attacks potentially thwarted and further proof, according to French President Francois Hollande, that his country is “at war” with ISIS.
Authorities zeroed in on a building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis after picking up phone conversations indicating that a relative of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of last week’s bloody attacks, might be there, a Belgian counterterrorism official said. French police also believed Abaaoud himself was then still in the country, though they didn’t know exactly where.
By late Wednesday, the new question was whether or not he is even alive. Investigators are using DNA to analyze the body parts found in the Saint-Denis building where a female suspect first blew herself up and then French forces used powerful munitions to combat others, which led to one floor of the building collapsing.
Who is the suspected ringleader?
Hollande was among those who offered congratulations to French police on the raid. Yet he also stressed that his country’s fight against terrorists, specifically those linked to ISIS, is anything but over. In fact, the violent nature of Wednesday’s raid in Saint-Denis is further proof that “we are at war,” Hollande said.
“What the terrorists were targeting was what France represents. This is what was attacked on the night of November 13th,” he said. “These barbarians targeted France’s diversity. It was the youth of France who were targeted simply because they represent life.”
Given this threat, Hollande said that Wednesday evening he would present legislation to extend France’s state of emergency for three more months — a measure that, among other things, gives authorities greater powers in conducting searches, holding people and dissolving certain groups.
The French President also said he’d appeal to world leaders — including meetings next week with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have been at odds on what to do in the ISIS stronghold of Syria — to form a wider coalition to go after the savage Islamist extremist group.
“There is no more … divide. There are only men and women of duty,” he said. “… We must destroy this army that menaces the entire world, not just some countries.”
‘We could see the bullets’
As France learned Friday — when a series of coordinated attacks left a trail of horror, sorrow and questions, with 129 dead and hundreds more wounded — terrorists act with savagery on their own schedule.
Paris victims from all walks of life
And those in Saint-Denis were “about to move on some kind of operation” again, police sources told CNN, adding that the Wednesday raid happened “just in time.”
Some 110 police swarmed on the diverse, working-class area that is home to the Stade de France sports stadium — where three suicide bombings took place days earlier. They first went into one apartment that had been under surveillance since Tuesday, a Paris police source said. That raid led them to another apartment on the same street.
The French police met fierce resistance when they entered the building, including the female suicide bomber — who Belgian state broadcaster RTBF claimed was Abaaoud’s cousin. They answered with powerful munitions of their own, a fact that produced piles of rubble interspersed with body parts, according to the Belgian counterterrorism official.
“We could see the bullets,” a woman, who identified herself only as Sabrine, told CNN affiliate France 2 of the drama. “We could feel the building shaking.”
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there could end up being more than the two suspected terrorist deaths. As of Wednesday afternoon, seven suspects — including three in one apartment, the person who loaned the apartment to the suspected terrorists and his friend — ended up in custody from this operation alone.
Five French officers, meanwhile, were slightly wounded, while a police dog died in the operation, according to police.
Saadana Aymen, a 29-year-old who lives one street down, couldn’t believe what was happening in his neighborhood.
“When you think of Saint-Denis, you don’t think of terrorists,” he told CNN. “I’m shocked! Why would the terrorists pick this neighborhood?”
Phones offer clues
Yet Saint-Denis wasn’t the only place where French authorities fanned out Tuesday night into Wednesday, as part of their security clampdown.
The Interior Ministry announced in a statement that 118 searches led to the detention of at least 25 people, the confiscation of 34 weapons and the discovery of illicit drugs in 16 instances. This is on top of hundreds of similar operations conducted in recent days, which have resulted in 64 people being held and 118 put under house arrest.
Authorities have not yet laid out what connection any of these arrests have to Friday’s attacks. Yet counterterrorism and intelligence officials say that investigators have uncovered what could be a big break: cell phones believed to belong to the attackers.
According to the officials, one of the phones contained a message, sent sometime before the Friday attacks began, to the effect of: OK, we’re ready.
But cracking into their communication won’t be easy.
Investigators have found encrypted apps on the phones, which appear to have left no trace of messages or any indication of who would have been receiving them, according to officials briefed on the French investigation.
‘These are not regular people’
Seven attackers died during Friday night’s wave of violence, and an international arrest warrant is out for one suspect, Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman. The identity of the possible ninth suspect, seen in a video that shows two gunmen inside a black car and perhaps a third person driving the vehicle, is unknown.
Mohamed Abdeslam has urged his younger brother Salah, who was stopped but then let go en route to the Belgian border hours after the attacks, to turn himself into authorities. He acknowledged noticing Salah and another brother — 31-year-old Ibrahim, who is among the seven terrorists killed — had been adopting more radical views, though that didn’t mean the family isn’t shocked.
“My brother who participated in this terrorist act must have been psychologically ready to commit such an act. These are not regular people,” he told CNN.
“You cannot have the slightest doubt that they have been prepared, that they must not leave any trace which would cause suspicion that they might do such things. And even if you saw them every day, their behavior was quite normal.”
Official: Belgian authorities lost track of 2 suspects
Both Salah Abdeslam and Ibrahim were known to authorities: Belgian prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told CNN’s Ivan Watson police questioned the Abdeslam brothers in February. The brothers were released, the federal prosecutor said, after they denied wanting to go to Syria.
And Salah Abdeslam and Abaaoud served time together in a Belgian prison in 2011, when the former spent a month for an alleged theft, a Belgian federal prosecutor said.
Belgian authorities believe Abaaoud has spent previous months in Raqqa, the Syrian city that’s now the de facto capital of the Islamic State, or ISIS, a counterrrorism official in that European nation said. There, in Syria, Abaaoud is thought to have worked with several senior French figures in ISIS — members of the so-called Artigat network including Sabri Essid and Fabien Clain, whose voice can be heard on the claim of responsibility for the Paris attacks — to plot a series of attacks in France.
Already, Essid and Clain have been traced to an April plot to attack a Paris church and the August armed assault on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train that was thwarted by three Americans.
As to those behind the latest violence, Belgian authorities didn’t even know Abaaoud was back in Europe, according to the counterterrorism official. They’d also lost track of Salah Abdeslam.
And, the senior Belgian official said, the bombmaker who made the suicide vests used in Paris is also thought to still be at large.
What’s next for ISIS?
ISIS was born in Iraq and blossomed in Syria, taking advantage of the power vacuum from that country’s chaotic, years-long civil war. In the process, the militant group employed bold, ruthless and sometimes sadistic tactics — as evidenced by the taking of women and girls as sex slaves, broadcasting the beheading of journalists and aid workers, destroying centuries-old historic artifacts and massacring those who don’t subscribe to its twisted, extreme interpretation of Islam.
The group has managed to take over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria in this campaign. But it’s not content to stop there.
Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and other nations have all been sites of ISIS-claimed attacks in recent months. The militant group has also boasted about bloodshed inside Europe, including January’s massacre on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
While some have faulted world leaders for not stepping up sooner, there has been a more concerted effort of late. The United States conducted airstrikes for months, which U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren estimated have killed at least one mid- to high-level ISIS figure every day since May. More recently, Russia has stepped into the fray, in part, to support its longtime ally Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled President.
Then there’s Turkey, whose involvement has been complicated by the fact that its longtime adversaries, the Kurds, have been fighting against ISIS. On Wednesday, the semi-official Anadolu news agency reported that Turkish police had detained eight ISIS-linked suspects who’d arrived at an Istanbul airport from Casablanca. The eight Moroccans said they had booked a hotel in Turkey and were preparing to head to Germany — via Greece, Serbia and Hungary — the report added, pointing to a document — seized by police — that detailed the travel route.
France has been part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS for months. But it has enhanced its role — symbolically and in practice — in the wake of the latest Paris attacks. And Hollande says that the arrival of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle within striking distance of Syria will triple France’s capacity to conduct airstrikes.
And, despite their differing stances on Syria’s future and other matters, Russia’s armed forces are ready to organize joint military operations with the French navy “to combat terrorists in Syria,” Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported, citing army official Andrey Kartapolov.