Christian Hartmann / Reuters

At least two dead in French police raid seeking attack suspects

Developing: At least two dead in heavy gunfire as police raid Saint-Denis apartment seeking suspects in Friday's attacks

A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up Wednesday as heavily armed police tried to storm a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind of last week's attacks that killed at least 129 people was believed to be holed up, police said.

One man was also killed, police said, and five people arrested in the standoff, which began before dawn and continued hours later. One person remained holed up in the apartment.

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At least seven explosions were heard at the scene. The source of the blasts is unclear. No hostages are being held, according to police.

This is the third overnight of police action linked to the Friday attacks.

The Paris attacks, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), raised security concerns around the world, with an international soccer match called off in Germany on Tuesday and two Air France flights from the United States diverted for several hours due to bomb threats.

A senior French police official says the large police operation in the suburb of Saint-Denis is targeting the suspected mastermind of last week's attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

The official says authorities believe Abaaoud is holed up in an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

Another police official not authorized to be publicly named because of police rules said four police officers were injured. 

The Paris prosecutor's office said SWAT teams arrested three people in the apartment. It said they haven't been identified yet.

Another man and woman were detained near the apartment, the office said in a statement.

The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to police rules but is informed routinely about the operation, told The Associated Press that scores of police who stormed the building early Wednesday were met with unexpectedly violent resistance. Reinforcements were summoned and several people were injured.

French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday — four Frenchmen and a fifth man who was fingerprinted in Greece among refugees last month. But they now believe two men directly involved in the assault subsequently escaped.

Police have blocked off the area around Place Jean Jaures in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris.

A city official not authorized to be publicly named told The Associated Press the residents were brought to city hall for protection. City hall is about 200 yards from the apartment building where the standoff is taking place on rue du Cornillon, in the heart of the historic, multicultural town just north of Paris.

Deputy Mayor Stephane Peu told i-Tele television that there have been many gun shots and detonations in the operation that began at 4:25 a.m. Wednesday on rue de la Republique in the center of Saint-Denis.

The mayor urged residents to stay home, saying "It is not a new attack but a police intervention."

Police cordoned off the area nearby, including a pedestrian zone lined with shops and 19th-century apartment buildings.

Neighborhood resident Fabien Crombe said on BFM television that gunshots have repeatedly broken out since the police operation began, punctuated by silence and the sound of sirens.

Baptiste Marie, a 26-year-old independent journalist who lives near the scene of the standoff, told The Associated Press: "It started with an explosion. Then there was second big explosion. Then two more explosions. There was an hour of gunfire."

Resident Amin Guizani, 21, said, "There were grenades. It was going, stopping. Kalashnikovs. Starting again."

Paillard said transport has been stopped and schools in the center of town will not open Wednesday

Abaaoud came to public attention last year by boasting in an ISIL propaganda video about his pride in piling the dead bodies of "infidel" enemies into a trailer. Anti-terror agencies previously linked him to a series of abortive shooting plots this year in Belgium and France, including a planned attack on a passenger train that was thwarted by American passengers who overpowered the lone gunman.

A European security official told the New York Times on Tuesday that Abaaoud was a target of Western airstrikes on the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, as recently as last month.

Wire services

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