The suspected mastermind of last week’s Paris attacks was killed in the police raid of an apartment north of the capital, French officials said on Thursday.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the Islamic State, was accused of orchestrating last Friday’s coordinated bombings and shootings in the French capital, which killed 129 people.
“It was his body we discovered in the building, riddled with bullets,” a statement from the Paris prosecutor said, a day after the pre-dawn raid. The prosecutor later added that it was unclear whether Abaaoud had detonated a suicide belt.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls broke the news in Parliament to applause from lawmakers who were voting on Thursday to extend the country’s state of emergency for another three months.
“We know today … that the mastermind of the attacks – or one of them, let’s remain cautious – was among those dead,” Valls told reporters. Confirmation that Abaaoud was in Paris will focus more attention on European security services, who ahead of Friday’s attacks had thought he was still in Syria.
“This is a major failing,” said Roland Jaquard at the International Observatory for Terrorism.
Early on Wednesday morning, investigations led police to the house where Abaaoud was holed up in the Paris suburb of St. Denis. Heavily armed officers stormed the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions.
Officials had said on Wednesday that two people were killed in the raid, including a female suicide bomber who blew herself up. Forensic scientists were trying to determine whether a third person had died. Eight people were arrested.
Two police sources and a source close to the investigation told Reuters the St. Denis cell had been planning a fresh attack on Paris’s La Defense business district. A source close to the investigation said the female bomber who was killed might have been Abaaoud’s cousin.
Investigators believe the attacks – the deadliest in France since World War Two – were set in motion in Syria, with Islamist cells in neighbouring Belgium organising the mayhem.