Renewed Violence in Paris, Security Tightened

Renewed Violence  in Paris, Security Tightened Renewed Violence  in Paris, Security Tightened

Gunfire and explosions shook the Paris suburb of Saint Denis early on Wednesday, as French police surrounded an apartment where a Belgian militant suspected of masterminding last week's attacks in the French capital was believed to be holed up.

A woman died after detonating a bomb at the scene, the French prosecutors' office said, adding that three people in the apartment had been arrested and two others seized nearby.

A judicial source said a second person had died in the pre-dawn raid, but there was no immediate official confirmation.

Heavily armed police and soldiers filled the streets of St. Denis, schools and shops were shuttered and residents in the heart of the district were ordered to stay at home, Reuters reported.        

Police and justice sources said the target of their operation was Islamic State militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was initially thought to have orchestrated Friday’s deadly Paris attacks from Syria.

Five hours after the first gunshots rang out in St. Denis, there was still no confirmation that he was in the area.

The Paris attacks, claimed by IS, raised security concerns around the world, with an international soccer match called off in Germany on Tuesday and two Air France flights from the United States diverted for several hours due to bomb threats.

In Syria, France and Russia bombed targets to punish IS for the coordinated Paris massacre and the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31.

French TV stations BFMTV and iTele both showed amateur video of Wednesday’s early morning shooting and cited witnesses in the area as saying they had heard sporadic gunfire from around 4:30 a.m.

French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday—four Frenchmen and a man who was fingerprinted in Greece among refugees last month.

But they now believe two men directly involved in the assault subsequently escaped.

Wednesday’s operation came after a source with knowledge of the investigation said a cellphone had been found with a map of the music venue targeted in one of the attacks and a text message on it saying words to the effect of “let’s go”.

The source said the phone was found in a dustbin near the Bataclan concert hall where the bloodiest of the shootings took place.

IS said it carried out the attacks in retaliation for French and Russian air raids in Iraq and Syria. Investigators said the Paris plot was hatched in Syria and nurtured in Belgium.

  Security Alerts

Late on Tuesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration said two Paris-bound Air France flights were diverted following anonymous bomb threats and hundreds of passengers and crew were safely removed.

Flight 65, an Airbus A-380 that had departed from Los Angeles, landed safely in Salt Lake City where passengers and crew were escorted into the terminal, an FAA spokesman said.

The FBI said in a statement that no evidence was found aboard the plane “which would lend credibility to the threats” against the flight.

A separate flight that left Dulles International Airport outside Washington DC, Flight 55, was diverted to Halifax International Airport in Canada, where 262 passengers and crew had also disembarked.

Police dogs searched the plane for evidence of explosives, but no details were disclosed.

In a brief statement, Air France said both flights had been the “subjects of anonymous threats received after their respective takeoffs”.

Earlier, bomb fears had prompted German police to call off a soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hanover two hours before kickoff. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been due to attend.

No arrests were made and no explosives were found.

France and Germany were playing a friendly soccer match at the Stade de France when Friday’s attacks took place.