The suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks was among those killed in a police raid in a northern suburb of the French capital on Wednesday, authorities said Thursday, as the lower house of the French Parliament voted to extend state-of-emergency powers until February and Belgian officials continued their search for another suspect, who remains on the run.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was accused of orchestrating Friday's bombings and shootings. His body was found in the apartment building targeted in a chaotic raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis early Wednesday morning.
Police launched the raid after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and witness accounts suggesting that Abaaoud was holed up there. Killed along with Abaaoud was his cousin, who blew herself up with an explosives vest at the beginning of the raid, police said. Eight people were arrested in two separate raids in the area on Wednesday.
"Abdel Hamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified, after comparing fingerprints, as having been killed during the (police) raid," a statement from the Paris prosecutor said. "It was the body we had discovered in the building, riddled with bullets." But the prosecutor's office left open the possibility that Abaaoud may also have detonated an explosive device on his person.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says France did not know before last week's deadly attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe. Cazeneuve said Abaaoud was believed to be behind four of six attacks thwarted in France since spring 2015, including an attempted attack on a high-speed train headed to Paris in August that was foiled by other train passengers.
News of Abaaoud's death came as Belgian authorities detained seven people during several raids Thursday morning in Molenbeek, a Brussels district. The raids were linked to one of the suicide bombers in last week's attacks, Bilal Hadfi, and "his entourage," a Belgian official said.
Another suspect who had lived in Molenbeek, Salah Abdeslam, 26, remains on the run. He is suspected of having rented a black VW Polo car used in the attacks in Paris.
"In this community of Muslims in Molenbeek there is a lot of unemployment and, in this situation, it’s a basis where hate preachers can find and indoctrinate people," Jan Jambon, the Belgian interior minister, told Al Jazeera. "This analysis is already made for years but the political will was never there to change things."
Fatima Bourial, a shop assistant who grew up in Molenbeek and still lives there, said Abaaoud's actions have "nothing to do with Islam."
"Everybody hates what he has done," Bourial said. "This is not human what he did. I can't understand how somebody can kill innocent people in the hope of going to paradise."
On Friday Jambon will meet in Brussels with European interior and justice ministers. It's expected that French officials will call for strengthened counter-terrorism measures and tightened border checks. Officials also will mull measures to enforce stricter controls of firearm sales and enhanced intelligence-sharing.
With France still reeling from the Friday attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that ISIL might attempt to use chemical or biological weapons.
"Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria ... but for what it is," Valls told the lower house of Parliament Thursday. "We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons."
Valls' announcement came as the National Assembly, in a 551 to 6 vote, agreed to extend state-of-emergency powers until February. The vote allows the interior ministry to order house arrests and house searches without judicial approval. Since Friday’s attacks, the ministry has ordered house arrest for over 100 people, and it has conducted nearly 200 house searches.
State-of-emergency powers also allow police to prohibit the free movement of people and vehicles at any time, to block access to certain websites, and to set up checkpoints outside public and private buildings suspected of harboring people deemed dangerous to national security.
These powers were first enacted in 1955 at the start of France’s war with Algeria. Since then, France has decreed a state of emergency twice: in 1985 in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia amid massive unrest between separatists and French loyalists, and in 2005 in response to three weeks of rioting in Paris and hundreds of other French towns.
With wire services. Additonal reporting by Lisa DeBode in Brussels