PARIS — The suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks was killed Wednesday in a massive predawn raid by French police commandos, two senior European officials said, after investigators followed leads that the fugitive militant was holed up north of the French capital and could be plotting another wave of violence.
More than 100 police officers and soldiers stormed an apartment building in the suburb of Saint-Denis during a seven-hour siege that left at least two dead, including the suspected overseer of the Paris bloodshed, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, officials said. Abaaoud, a Belgian extremist, had once boasted that he could slip easily between Europe and strongholds of the Islamic State militant group in Syria.
Paris prosecutor François Molins, speaking to reporters hours after the siege, said he could not provide the identities of the people killed at the scene. A French security official declined to confirm or deny that Abaaoud had died.
But two senior European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said they received confirmation from the French that Abaaoud was slain in the raid.
It was not immediately clear how Abaaoud died — whether in police gunfire, by his own hand or in a suicide blast triggered by a woman in the apartment.
After the raid, forsenics experts combed through the aftermath — blown-out windows, floors collapsed by explosions — presumably seeking DNA and other evidence.
Molins said a discarded cellphone helped identify safe houses used by attackers to plan Friday’s coordinated assaults, which killed 129 people and wounded more than 350 across Paris.
Molins said police launched the raid because they believed that Abaaoud was “entrenched” on the third floor of the apartment building. He said that neither Abaaoud nor another wanted suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was among eight people who were arrested at the apartment and other locations on Wednesday. Three people were arrested in the raid on the apartment, he said, one of whom had a gunshot wound in the arm.
Molins said the safe houses indicated “a huge logistics plan, meticulously carried out.”
The death of Abaaoud closes one major dragnet in the international search for suspects from Friday’s carnage.
But it raised other worrisome questions, including the apparent ability of Abaaoud to evade intelligence agencies while traveling through Europe and whether other possible Islamic State cells could be seeking to strike again.
It also left no doubt that other potential threats remained.
The raid on the apartment building appeared to be linked in part to plans to stage a follow-up terrorist attack in the La Defense business district, about 10 miles away, two police officials and an investigator close to the investigation said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
As security forces closed in, a woman set off a suicide blast — possibly an explosive-rigged vest or belt — after opening fire. The eight people who were arrested Wednesday in Saint-Denis, a teeming district with a large immigrant population, included seven men and one woman, Molins said.
French media identified the suicide bomber as Hasna Aitboulahcen, a cousin of Abaaoud’s. The 26-year-old French citizen is a former manager of Beko Construction, a company in Epinay-sur-Seine, a town north of Saint-Denis. The company was closed in 2014.
Molins, the Paris prosecutor, told reporters that the operation was launched after authorities received information — potentially tips or intelligence information — that Abaaoud was in the area.
Abaaoud, an ardent Islamic State supporter linked to several other terrorist attempts, was believed to be in Syria earlier this year. But some officials speculate that he could have returned to Europe, perhaps passing undetected among the flood of asylum seekers pouring into Greek islands from Turkey.
The siege appeared to have been aided by another potential breakthrough in the probe: the discovery of a mobile phone in a garbage can near the Bataclan concert hall, the site of one of Friday’s assaults.
The phone’s data contained a map of the music venue, French media reported, along with a chilling text message sent shortly after the first gunmen entered: “Let’s go, we’re starting.”
The information on the phone opened fresh leads, including to an apartment southeast of Paris in Alfortville, according to Mediapart, a French news outlet.
French officials have cast a wide net in the hunt for suspects in Friday’s attacks, which took place at Bataclan, several bars and restaurants, and a soccer match. Across France, 118 additional raids were conducted overnight on Tuesday, yielding at least 25 arrests. That brought to 414 the number of raids launched throughout France since Friday, the Interior Ministry said.
After Friday’s assaults, which laid bare the shortcomings of European intelligence agencies’ ability to prevent militant attacks, officials across the continent have remained on high alert.
In Copenhagen, a terminal at the Danish capital’s international airport was briefly evacuated after “an overheard conversation about a bomb,” police said in a Twitter post. The terminal was later reopened.
Countries, including Sweden and Italy, raised terror alerts. Extra security was posted in St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis addressed pilgrims.
French authorities, meanwhile, issued a pan-European bulletin asking people to watch for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Salah Abdeslam, a French militant also accused of having a direct role in the attacks, the Spanish news site El Español reported Wednesday.
On Tuesday, authorities in Hanover, Germany, abruptly called off a friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands that Chancellor Angela Merkel had planned to attend. One target of Friday’s attacks was a friendly soccer match between France and Germany at a crowded stadium north of Paris — not far from the Saint-Denis raids. No explosives were found at the German site.