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Paris police raid halted terror cell that was ‘ready to strike’

Security sources claim attack was planned on airport, mall; prosecutor says 5,000 rounds fired, weapons stockpile foundxf in deadly pre-dawn siege

French police teams search for evidence outside a building after a raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, on November 18, 2015.  (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)
French police teams search for evidence outside a building after a raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, on November 18, 2015. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

French officials said Wednesday a massive police raid on a suspected terror cell in a suburb north of Paris likely headed off an imminent attack, possibly on an airport in the French capital.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the jihadis were capable of staging a fresh attack and were ready to act.

“A new team of terrorists was neutralized and all indications are that given their arms, their organizational structure and their determination, they could have struck,” said Molins.

Security sources said the fourth terror cell — in addition to the three teams who carried out Friday’s deadly attacks — had been planning to attack Charles de Gaulle Airport and a shopping mall, according to French state broadcaster France 2.

At least two people were apparently killed in the siege, including a woman who blew herself up, and seven others were arrested during the seven-hour siege, Molins said.

“I am not able to give you a precise number and identity of those killed. There are at least two dead and verifications will likely take longer than expected” due to the state of the apartment building, he said.

Picture taken of the building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, on November 18, 2015, where French Police special forces raided an apartment, hunting those behind the attacks that claimed 129 lives in the French capital five days ago. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)
Picture taken of the building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, on November 18, 2015, where French Police special forces raided an apartment, hunting those behind the attacks that claimed 129 lives in the French capital five days ago. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

Earlier, the prosecutor said the raid was launched after information from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated that suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud might be in a safe house in the Saint-Denis suburb.

Molins said that authorities know Abaaoud and wanted fugitive Salah Abdeslam were not among those detained in the police operation Wednesday but he did not eliminate the possibility that they were killed, saying the identities of those slain in the raid in the town of Saint-Denis are still being investigated.

This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was identified by French authorities as the presumed mastermind of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris. (Photo via AP)
This undated image made available in the Islamic State’s English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was identified by French authorities as the presumed mastermind of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris. (Photo via AP)

Molins said police fired some 5,000 rounds during the hour-long exchange of fire during the raid on the apartment in the suburb north of Paris.

Heavily armed police squads initially were thwarted by a reinforced door to the apartment where the terror cell had holed up, and faced nearly incessant fire as they worked to enter, the Paris prospector said.

Gunfire and explosions rocked the area near the Stade de France stadium, from before dawn as terrified residents were evacuated or told to stay in their homes.

Authorities arrested seven people and five police officers suffered minor injuries in the operation — a seven-hour stand-off between security forces and a group of people holed up in an apartment.

Black-clad elite police were seen hauling away a naked suspect in the streets near where three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the football stadium at the start of Friday’s attacks.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins leaves after delivering a press conference in Paris on November 18, 2015. (AFP/ALAIN JOCARD)
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins leaves after delivering a press conference in Paris on November 18, 2015. (AFP/ALAIN JOCARD)

Molins also said police had found a cellphone belonging to one of the gunmen and suicide bombers who staged France’s worst-ever attacks Friday, killing 129 people and injuring over 350.

The phone was found in a dustbin outside the Bataclan music venue, scene of the worst violence, where 89 people were gunned down.

A text message showed one of the gunmen had sent a message saying “we’re ready, let’s go.”

The message was sent at 9:42 p.m. (20.42 GMT), before the attack, Molins said, adding that police were investigating who the message was sent to.

After the raid, white-suited forensic experts swarmed the building as police tried to verify if Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, had been in the apartment.

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