Terror Arrests Made in Paris Suburb

French Police

Photo Peter DeJong/courtesy of AP

Terror Arrests Made in Paris Suburb

| published November 18, 2015 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor


Following the investigative trail of the Paris terror attackers, Paris police and French law enforcement raided an apartment in the suburban Paris neighborhood of Saint-Denis early Wednesday, prompting a woman inside the home to detonate an explosive device she wore as a vest, instantly killing her and injuring several police officers. Heavily-armed and wearing bullet-proof vests, the police killed at least one armed man and arrested seven others.

Neighbors in the area say that explosions and gunfire were heard for a period of about 2 hours in the area of Saint-Denis early on Wednesday, with police then sealing off a large  area around the apartment building which was the target of the paramilitary raids.  Police were eventually joined by French Army units and scores of paramedics.

Though French officials say that the operation at that particular location is now over, they remain even now on the scene.  Police also stressed that other suspects or accomplices to the ISIS-inspired Paris attacks may still be at large. The daring military-style raid took place after investigators tracked leads to the quiet apartment neighborhood early Wednesday morning.  Gunshot were heard moments after the first police contingents arrived.

According to some media sources, those five police officers injured are expected to recover from their wounds, which may include gunshot and shrapnel wounds.  Across France, hundreds of arrests were made in scores of cities and towns, part of major national sweep of suspected ISIS followers and operatives.

A dozen European countries remain on high alert this week after ISIS militants staged terror attacks across Paris late Friday, killing at least 129 people and injuring 350 more. The attackers exploded bombs at the soccer stadium, opened fire on civilians in corner restaurants and coffee shops, and stormed into the crowded Bataclan Concert Hall during a rock concert, where gunmen with automatic weapons shot indiscriminately into the crowd before taking others hostage. It was the worst terrorist act against France since the end of World War II. ISIS immediately took responsibility for the assaults, saying the attacks were retribution for French participation in airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.

A two-continent manhunt is still underway for others involved in the attack, including suspected ringleader and mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud—a Moroccan-born Belgian citizen from a quiet working-class Brussels family. Abaaoud has been on the radar of law enforcement for more than a year—a known ISIS operative who had traveled back and forth from Eastern Europe to Syria at least twice. He has also been identified from ISIS propaganda videos shot and produced in northern Syria and northwestern Iraq. In ISIS videos, he was known to boast of his ability to evade police and move about Europe undetected.

Police had been looking for Abaaoud when the trail led them directly to the apartment in the Paris suburb early Wednesday. French officials say that the apartment included a weapons cache, as well as evidence of bomb-making materials similar to the materials found among the remains of two or three of the terrorists who detonated suicide devices at the soccer stadium on Friday night. Law enforcement officials in several countries—including France, Germany, Belgium and Spain—have linked Abaaoud to several terror plots in recent months. The top Paris prosecutor says that the cadre arrested in Saint Denis were perhaps only days away from staging another violent attack.

It is not clear at this time whether one of the two suspects killed on the scene of the raid was Abaaoud.

Abaaoud's face has been on the radar of European police for months even as he apparently traveled to Syria and back to Belgium earlier this year undetected. Abaaoud has also been featured in at least one full-length article in the Islamic State’s official magazine, Dabiq, in which he offered advice to potential jihadists in Europe, and boasted of his ability to evade authorities in multiple countries. In a video circulated by ISIS, he can be seen driving an SUV while dragging the mutilated bodies of ISIS torture victims from the truck’s trailer hitch and bumper. In another video, he calmly narrates as he walks through the home of a Syrian family, all of whom had been previously killed as they were preparing a meal. Abaaoud tells viewers that the family had been slaughtered because they were unbelievers.

Abaaoud is one of several of the Paris attackers known previously to police in several countries for prior criminal activities—including, according to some sources—armed robberies, theft, and the sale of illegal drugs. He was also instrumental in encouraging his teenage brother, Younes Abaaoud, to join ISIS. The New York Times and other media sources have spoken to members of Abaaoud’s family in Belgium, and the NYT reports that the Paris mastermind has long been in disfavor with his parents and extended family members. His sister reportedly told reporters that her family rejoiced when they heard the false reports of Abaaoud’s death in Syria last year. His father said that his son had “destroyed our family.”

Despite initial media reports that Abaaoud grew up impoverished and on the brink of economic despair in Belgium, he experienced, in fact, a much better life than most—attending an elite private Catholic school in a high-end neighborhood of Brussels and enjoying the fruits of a secure, middle class life at home.

French police believe that there were at least nine attackers involved directly in Friday’s terrorism, but remain uncertain how many others may have been involved. Seven of the terrorists died during or after the attacks, including three who died instantly when their suicide vests exploded at the stadium. French authorities are also reticent to give a clear number of attackers since their investigations are active and underway, and since law enforcement in several other countries are also involved.

In Paris, authorities are poring over ever frame of video surveillance of the sites of the Friday attacks, in an attempt to ferret out additional information and confirmation about the attackers. Traffic cameras and other security cameras reportedly captured clear images of the assaults on the corner restaurants and cafes, and those images confirm the identities of several gunmen as well as the vehicles used.

Meanwhile, French air power is again at work over Syria. French fighter planes carried out more bombing runs on Tuesday and early Wednesday, striking numerous targets in and around Raqqa, the city which serves as the capital of the Islamic State. Russian warplanes have also struck at various targets around Syria, in particular in areas closer to Damascus. Moscow has ordered attacks on the Islamic State stepped up in response to its conclusions—announced early Tuesday—that the Metrojet which exploded over the Sinai was taken down by a bomb deliberately planted in the plane’s cargo area, possibly by airport personnel with links to a Sinai-based ISIS militant group.

In a related development, ISIS today posted a new online video encouraging attacks against the United States, a video which includes images of New York's Times Square and other busy areas. The video is being used as a recruitment tool to gain new followers, and to spur individual terror cells into action. The ISIS video warns that what has happened in Paris is now possible anywhere in the world, even in the United States.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Russian Investigators Confirm Bomb Theory; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; November 17, 2015.

Paris Attacks: Do They Change the ISIS Narrative?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 14, 2015.