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Authorities: Suspected Paris attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud dead

Parisian public prosecutors say that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader behind the November 13 attacks that killed 129 in Paris, was among those killed in a police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

The Paris prosecutor said in a statement that Abdelhamid Abaaoud had been identified to be among those killed in a police operation in the French capital on November 18.

The 28-year-old Belgian militant, who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS), had allegedly orchestrated the coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris which killed 129 people.

"Abdelhamid Abaaoud has just been formally identified (...) as having been killed during the raid" in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday, the prosecutor said in a statement.

Police also confirmed that a woman who had blown herself up during the Saint-Denis raid was Abaaoud's cousin, identifying her as Hasna Aitboulahcen. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not permitted to divulge details of the investigation, and added that her exact relationship with Abaaoud had not been officially confirmed.

Active across various European countries

The French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve meanwhile added that Abaaoud was likely involved in the August 21, 2015 attack on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussels, during which two people were injured, as well as in the April 22, 2015 planned attack on French churches in Paris, which was foiled at the last minute. He added that Abaaoud was behind four out of six foiled attacks in the past six months.

The German news magazine "Spiegel Online" meanwhile reported that Abdelhamid Abaaoud had visited Germany several times in the past few years. German border police at the Cologne-Bonn Airport said he had been questioned at border controls on his way to Istanbul on January 20, 2014. He had reportedly also been to Cologne in 2007.

Saint-Denis raid

The Belgian national of Moroccan descent had previously boasted in IS propaganda that he was able to travel freely and undetected between Europe and Syria. Police sources said that they had originally assumed Abaaoud to be in Syria or possibly evenGreece, but investigations later led them to a house in Saint-Denis.

Heavily armed officers stormed the building before dawn on November 18, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions, during which the female suspect also blew herself up following a short exchange with police officers. The operation also led to eight arrests in total.

Abaaoud was eventually identified by his fingerprints after authorities had withheld further details about the raid for more than 24 hours. The prosecutor's statement said that his body was found "riddled with bullets."

Molenbeek cell

The impoverished Brussels district of Molenbeek was propelled to the center of investigations into the Paris attacks after it had emerged that at least two of the attackers had been living there. Abaaoud grew up in the Brussels suburb but disappeared in 2013 only to resurface in war-torn Syria as the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) began to increase recruits from abroad.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Abdelhamid Abaaoud was raised in Molenbeek, a poor Brussels suburb known to have an active jihadi scene

French President Francois Hollande said that the coordinated attacks in Paris had been planned on Belgian soil, without specifying whether he was referring to Molenbeek.

Belgian police were meanwhile carrying out at least six fresh raids in Molenbeek and elsewhere in Brussels on Thursday morning. The operations were reportedly related to Paris suicide bomber Bilal Hadfi - one of three suicide bombers at the Stade de France stadium.

Extension of state of emergency in France

The announcement of Abaaoud's death came shortly after France's National Assembly had voted in favor of extending a national state of emergency by three months until the end of February. French authorities had immediately declared a state of emergency after the November 13 Paris attack.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told lawmakers that further attacks could follow and needed to be contained.

France's upper house is expected to vote in favor of extending the state of emergency on Friday. The state of emergency would expand police powers to carry out arrests and searches at all times, while also allowing authorities to limit the movement of persons and vehicles if and as required.

ss/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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