Two terror suspects killed and seven arrested in Paris as police raid apartment
A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up as heavily armed police tried to storm a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind of last week's gun and bomb rampage was believed to be holed up, police said.
They said one man was also killed and seven people arrested in the standoff, which began before dawn and ended seven hours later, when a loud bang rang out around the streets near the apartment building.
French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told reporters in the presidential palace after a cabinet meeting that "the operation is over".
A senior police official said he believed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamic State militant, was inside the apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis with five other heavily armed people when the raid started.
The official said scores of police stormed the building and were met with unexpectedly violent resistance.
Four police officers were injured, another police official said. No hostages were being held.
The Paris prosecutor's office said SWAT teams arrested three people in the apartment. It said they have not been identified yet.
Another man and woman were detained nearby, the office said in a statement.
French president Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting with senior ministers at the Elysee Palace to monitor the raid.
Residents said an explosion shook the neighbourhood shortly after 4am local time (0300 GMT).
"We guessed it was linked to Friday night," said Yves Steux, barman at L'escargot restaurant 250 metres from the assault."My wife panicked and was scared and told me not to leave, but I ignored her. Life goes on."
Baptiste Marie, a 26-year-old independent journalist who lives in the neighbourhood, said a second large explosion was followed by "two more explosions. There was an hour of gunfire".
Another witness, Amine Guizani, said he heard the sound of grenades and automatic gunfire.
"It was continuous. It didn't stop," he said. "It lasted from 4.20am until 5.30am. It was a good hour. I couldn't say how many shots were fired, but it was probably 500. Hundreds, definitely. There were maybe 10 explosions."
Sporadic bangs and explosions continued, and at 7.30am (0630GMT) at least seven explosions shook the centre of Saint-Denis. Associated Press reporters at the scene could hear what sounded like grenade blasts from the direction of the standoff.
Investigators have identified 27-year-old Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday's attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and injured 350 others.
A US official briefed on intelligence matters said Abaaoud was a key figure in an IS external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.
Police vans and fire trucks rushed to the scene north of Paris, less than two kilometres (just over a mile) from the Stade de France stadium. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up on Friday near the stadium during an international football match with Mr Hollande in attendance.
In Saint-Denis on Wednesday, police cordoned off the area nearby, including a pedestrian zone lined with shops and 19th-century apartment buildings. Riot police cleared people from the streets, pointing guns at curious residents to move them off the roads.
Saint-Denis is one of France's most historic places. French kings were crowned and buried through the centuries in its famed basilica, a majestic Gothic church that towers over the area. Today the district is home to a vibrant and very ethnically diverse population and sees sporadic tension between police and violent youths.
Saint-Denis mayor Didier Paillard said public transport was suspended and that schools in the centre of town would not open on Wednesday.
Seven attackers died in Friday's attacks, which targeted several bars and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall, as well as the national stadium. IS has claimed responsibility for the carnage.
Police had said before the raids 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.
On Tuesday, officials said they now believe at least one other attacker was involved and they were working to identify and track down that suspect.
Surveillance video obtained by the AP also indicated that a team of three attackers carried out the shootings at one of the cafes. The video was among evidence authorities used in concluding that at least one other attacker was at large, the French officials indicated.
The brief clip shows two black-clad gunmen with automatic weapons calmly firing on the bar then returning towards a waiting car, whose driver was manoeuvring behind them. Authorities believe the car is the same black Seat-make vehicle that was found on Saturday with three Kalashnikovs inside.
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.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said authorities are working to determine the fate of Abaaoud.
Mr Molins said police began the raid on Wednesday after gathering information that he could be in a safe house apartment in Saint-Denis.
Mr Molins said the information was collected from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts.
He told reporters in Saint-Denis after the operation was over that authorities are still working to determine who was inside.