2 dead, 7 arrested in raid for Paris attack mastermind

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France, November 18: A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up today 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 continued more than six hours later, when a loud bang rang out around the streets near the apartment building.

Police said one person was thought to be still inside the apartment, but it wasn't clear who.

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, who was not authorised to be publicly named according to police rules but is informed routinely about the operation, said scores of police stormed the building and were met with unexpectedly violent resistance.

Another police official not authorised to be publicly named because of police rules said four police officers were injured. No hostages were being held.

The Paris prosecutor's office said SWAT teams arrested three people in the apartment. It said they haven't 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 4 am (07:30 IST).

"We guessed it was linked to Friday night," said Yves Steux, barman at L'escargot restaurant 250 meters yards 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 neighborhood, 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 4:20 until 5:30. 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."

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 Islamic State external operations cell that US intelligence agencies have been tracking for many months.

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