On Wednesday, more than 100 heavily armed French police stormed an apartment in northern Paris in the hunt for suspects behind last week’s deadly attacks, resulting in the death of at least two people believed to be part of another cell planning new attacks on the capital’s financial district — stoking fears that France could be the target of more attacks.
The raid targeted Abaaoud. Two people died in the raid, but Abaaoud’s fate remained unclear. However, Molins told reporters, “A new team of terrorists has been neutralized and everything suggests that the commando team could have taken action.”
Abaaoud was believed to be in Syria after a January police raid in Belgium.
A U.S. official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an ISIL external operations cell that U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking for several months.
Police had said before the Wednesday raids in Saint-Denis that they were hunting for two fugitives suspected of taking part as well as any accomplices. That would bring the number of attackers to at least nine.
French authorities had previously said that at least eight people were directly involved in the bloodshed: seven who died in the attacks and one who got away and slipped across the border to Belgium.
However, there have been gaps in officials' public statements, which have never fully disclosed how many attackers took part in the deadly rampage.
Police have identified one subject of their manhunt as Salah Abdeslam, whom French police accidentally permitted to cross into Belgium on Saturday. One of his brothers, Brahim, blew himself up in Paris.
On Wednesday, Belgian media reported that the Abdeslam brothers were interrogated by Belgian police before the Paris attacks but they were released because “they did not show signs of possible menace,” according to a police official cited by the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
Brahim Abdeslam attempted to travel to Syria but only made it to Turkey, said Eric Van Der Sypt, a federal prosecutor’s spokesman.
“We knew that they were radicalized and could make their way to Syria but they did not show signs of possible threat,” said Van Der Sypt. “Even if we had warned France about them, I doubt that we could have detained them.”
On Wednesday, in a sign that ISIL supporters were active elsewhere in France, a Jewish teacher was stabbed in the southern French port of Marseilles by three people professing solidarity with the group, prosecutors said.
One of the three wore an ISIL T-shirt while another attacker showed a picture on his mobile telephone of Mohamed Merah, a homegrown fighter who killed seven people in attacks in southern France in 2012. The Marseilles teacher's life was not in danger.
The Paris attacks have galvanized international determination to confront ISIL in Syria and Iraq, bringing France, Russia and the United States closer to an alliance.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start cooperating with the French military on operations in Syria.