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Paris attacks: suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud 'linked to four terror plots in France'

The suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks who was killed during a dramatic police shoot-out was linked to four foiled terror plots in France this year, the country's interior minister has said.

Bernard Cazeneuve said French authorities had no information that suspected Isis jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud was in France before last Friday's massacre which left 129 dead.

Abaaoud, 27, died with his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen who blew herself up following a major pre-dawn raid in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. His body was identified based on his fingerprints.

Mr Cazeneuve told a press conference that the French government was only informed by an intelligence service "outside of Europe" of Abaaoud's whereabouts on Monday.

The jihadist from Belgium had returned from Syria in 2014 and had been involved in four of six foiled attacks in France since spring 2015, he added.

The French interior minister said the six failed plots were all planned from abroad with the intention that they would be carried out by jihadists living in Europe.

A suspected terrorist had confessed while under arrest that he had been trained by Abaaoud to carry out a "violent attack" in France or another European country, he added

"It is urgent for Europe to come together, organise and defend itself against the terrorist threat," Mr Cazeneuve said.

A French official said Aitboulahcen - believed to be the first female suicide bomber to hit Western Europe - detonated a suicide vest after a brief exchange with police officers.

According to the official, one of the officers asked: "Where is your boyfriend?" and she responded angrily: "He's not my boyfriend!" before there was an explosion.

Eight people were arrested following the raid which saw police fire about 5,000 rounds of ammunition as the terrorist cell barricaded themselves in the hideout.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the operation neutralised a "new terrorist threat", and that "everything led us to believe that, considering their armaments, the structured organisation and their determination, they were ready to act".

The jihadis were set to carry out a second attack after Friday's massacre, this time targeting Charles de Gaulle airport and the city's financial district La Defense, according to reports.

Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspected gunmen from Friday's attacks who is now the focus of an international manhunt, was not among those arrested, the prosecutor added.

Belgian authorities today launched six raids in the Brussels region linked to Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers outside the Stade de France.

Meanwhile, French prime minister Manuel Valls warned that terrorists could use chemical or biological weapons, and urged an extension of France's state of emergency.

He said: "Terrorism hit France, not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria ... but for what it is.

"We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons."

Belgian police are also reportedly searching for a man named Mohamed K, from Roubaix, northern France, who is suspected of supplying the terrorist gang with explosives.

The eight arrested included one woman and a man whose flat was used as a hideout by the terror cell and are being interrogated.

France and Belgium to tighten guns laws and border security

France and Belgium will urge their European partners on Friday to tighten gun laws, toughen border security and choke off funds to extremist groups, a week after at least 129 people were killed in attacks in Paris.

But at an emergency meeting in Brussels, European Union interior and justice ministers are not set to agree on any new measures that could be immediately introduced to restore calm among countries rattled by the co-ordinated strikes in the French capital.

Indeed, documents prepared for their talks and seen by the Associated Press show that the ministers will merely try to push forward on priorities already identified, but not acted on, by EU leaders following the attacks in Paris in January on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery.

Here is a look at what is up for discussion:

WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVES CRACKDOWN

The ministers will examine new proposals, including a ban on some semi-automatic weapons and a guarantee that no private individual can own one, even if it has been permanently deactivated. At least one officially deactivated weapon was put back into service in Belgium and used in the attacks in Paris in January. Also on the list are tighter rules to prevent the purchase of arms or ammunition over the internet; stricter conditions on collectors to limit the risk their guns might be sold to criminals; common EU standards for marking weapons so they are easier to trace; and better information exchanges so a person banned from buying a firearm in one country cannot get one by crossing a border. A crackdown on illegal weapons or explosives coming from the Balkans, and other former or current conflict areas, is likely too.

AIRLINE PASSENGER INFORMATION

The Europeans have been working on an airline passenger name record system for about eight years. It would give authorities access to names, credit card details, travel itineraries and more. The EU has a system for exchanging passenger data with the US, Australia and Canada, but the 28 nations are unable to agree one among themselves, mostly due to privacy concerns. Draft legislation has been held up in the European Parliament since April 2012. In the face of the impasse, Belgium's prime minister affirmed on Thursday that his country would push ahead on such a system on its own. Britain also has its own system, and other countries are developing them.

EU BORDER SECURITY

France and Belgium want to stop foreign fighters from travelling to Syria and Iraq, then bringing their know-how back to Europe. More than 1,200 Europeans are thought to have done so. The idea is to introduce systematic controls on Europeans when they enter the EU. At the moment, travel documents of European citizens are checked visually but not swiped into the bloc's vast database, as they are with non-EU nationals. But introducing systematic checks will require changes to the rules governing Europe's passport-free zone, known as the Schengen area.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

The ministers will commit to step up information sharing. The problem is, information is often jealously guarded by nations. About half the information in the hands of the European police agency Europol is provided by just a few of the 28 member countries. The idea now is to at least enter data about all suspected foreign fighters in the vast Schengen Information System computer database used in the passport-free zone.

EXTREMIST GROUP FINANCING

The EU's executive arm will be asked to come up with ways to boost co-operation between Financial Intelligence Units, the national agencies that monitor money laundering and analyse suspicious transactions. Their findings could be made available to Europol. Traffic in artworks will also come under scrutiny, to close off one major market for cultural items pillaged by Islamic State.

'Mastermind' Abdelhamid Abaaoud dead after Saint Denis raid, French officials

The suspected mastermind behind the deadly Paris terror attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is dead, French officials have said.

Abaaoud was identified as one of those killed in a major police raid in the French suburb of Saint Denis on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Belgian jihadist is believed to have been the ringleader of last Friday's massacres which left 129 dead and wounded 368 others.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud was the target of the raid but his fate last night remained unclear.

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Who is Abdelhamid Abaaoud?

 

In a statement, the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed that Abaaoud died in the raid and his body had been identified based on DNA samples.

Two people died in the attack - one of whom was a woman who blew herself up.

The woman is reported in the French media to be Abaaoud's cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen.

One official said Aitboulahcen is believed to have detonated a suicide vest after a brief exchange with police officers.

According to the official, one of the officers asked: "Where is your boyfriend?" and she responded angrily: "He's not my boyfriend!" before there was an explosion.

The bodies recovered in the raid were badly mangled, with part of the woman's spine landing on a police car, complicating formal identification.

She is believed to be the first female suicide bomber to hit western Europe.

Police originally thought Abaaoud was in Syria but intelligence suggested he was hiding in the suburb of Saint Denis.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins had said the identities of the dead were still being investigated, but that neither Abaaoud nor the fugitive attacker Salah Abdeslam was in custody.

Mr Molins said heavily armed police squads initially were thwarted by a reinforced door to the apartment in the Saint-Denis neighbourhood north of Paris and faced nearly incessant fire as they worked to enter.

Eight people were arrested after police swat teams stormed the building in the Saint-Denis suburb.

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

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 months.

Abaaoud is believed to have escaped to Syria after a January police raid in Belgium, but he has bragged in Islamic State propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.

The site of Wednesday's raid is just over a mile from the Stade de France football stadium. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium during an international soccer match on Friday.

They were one of three teams of attackers who also targeted a rock concert at the Bataclan theatre as well popular night spots in a trendy Paris area. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, which has left France in mourning.

The international manhunt continues for the only suspected surviving gunman Salah Abdeslam.

 

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French police said Salah Abdeslam, 26, is dangerous and should not be approached (Police Nationale/PA)

 

Police have been searching a flat and two hotel rooms they believe were used by the attackers, and inspecting a car rented by Salah Abdeslam, the suspected eighth surviving gunman who is now the subject of an international manhunt.

French authorities think the black Renault Clio was used by Salah and brother Brahim to ferry the terrorists to and from Belgium, where the attacks were planned.

Mohamed Abdeslam, another brother of Salah, has made a TV appeal urging him to turn himself in.

Timelines of the events in the Saint Denis apartment raid

04.25 (03.25 GMT) French police and security forces launch a major operation in the north Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, believed to have Abdelhamid Abaaoud, mastermind of Friday's attacks, as its target.

Swarms of Swat police supported by military units are seen surrounding an apartment building in Rue du Cornillon, a historic street in a culturally diverse area less than 1.2 miles (2km) from the Stade de France, where terrorists struck on Friday in the first of a series of attacks that left 129 people dead.

According to a senior French police official, Abaaoud has barricaded himself in the flat with up to five heavily armed accomplices.

In an initial offensive, scores of police officers storm the building, although they are held back when they meet heavy resistance and suffer several casualties.

05.55 Vehicles carrying French soldiers and a number of ambulances are seen rushing towards Saint-Denis

Surrounding roads are sealed off and residents are told to stay indoors

Deputy Mayor Stephane Peu reassures Parisians that police activity, gunfire and explosions are not a sign of a fresh attack but an "intervention"

06.27 A helicopter is seen circling over the apartment block and a pedestrian area at the centre of the siege.

Saint-Denis Mayor Didier Paillard says schools in the area will not open and transport has been stopped.

06.55 More police reinforcements arrive at the scene.

 

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Police hunt mastermind of Paris attacks

 

07.20 Intense gunfire and at least four explosions are heard in Saint-Denis, with some claiming to have heard the sound of grenades.

Police in riot gear move to clear civilian bystanders from the streets.

07.35 Witnesses describe hearing at least three more explosions likened to grenade blasts coming from the building.

Police officials say several officers have been injured, although their condition is unknown.

07.45 Security forces evacuate around 20 people living in the building at the centre of the stand-off.

It is not clear if children or the elderly are among those rescued. They are said to have been taken 200 yards to the City Hall for protection.

08.20 Police announce that two suspects - a man and a woman - were killed in the operation and two suspects detained, although it is not known if Abaaoud is among them, dead or alive.

Two police officers are said to have suffered injuries in the stand-off.

08.40 It emerges that one of the early explosions heard at the scene was from a woman detonating a suicide vest.

The number of injured police officers rises to four.

09.00 Paris prosecutors announce that three suspects have been arrested in the raid and another man and woman are arrested nearby.

09.20 Police officials in Denmark announce that they have raised the country's internal threat level to "significant elevated preparedness" in response to events in Paris and other European countries.

The country's intelligence agency keeps its own assessment of the risk as "serious".

09.30 One suspect remains in the apartment at the centre of the five-hour siege. The number of arrests rises to five, including one woman.

10.00 French authorities confirm the death of a police dog in the operation.

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