Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin linked to a series of extremist plots in Europe over the past two years, died in Wednesday’s assault by elite police units on an apartment in northern Paris.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said handprint analysis was used to confirm the identity of Abaaoud’s body, which was found riddled with bullets in the rubble of the shattered building in Saint-Denis following a seven-hour police siege.
Molins said it was not yet clear whether Abaaoud blew himself up. Another body found after the shootout is thought to be that of a woman who detonated an explosives vest, with reports suggesting they were cousins.
Eight suspects were arrested in the massive Saint-Denis raid, which took place after authorities received a tip-off about Abaaoud on Monday, but another key suspect, Salah Abdeslam, remains unaccounted for.
Abdeslam is thought to be one of the only surviving members of the group of assailants behind the Paris massacre. His suicide-bomber brother Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up at a cafe without killing anyone.
The 28-year-old Abaaoud was thought to have been in Syria – where he had boasted of planning attacks on the West – and his presence in France raises troubling questions about a breakdown in intelligence and border security.
Confirmation that such a high-profile figure from the Islamic State group had managed to slip undetected into France prompted a sharp response from Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who demanded Europe step up its response to the terror threat.
Abaaoud was involved in four out of six attack plots foiled in France this year, he said, but Paris had received “no information” from other European countries about his arrival on the continent.
“It is urgent that Europe wakes up, organises itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat,” he told reporters on Thursday.
The Islamist was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Belgium – where a court had in July sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison for recruiting jihadists for Syria.
It was only on November 16, three days after the Paris bloodbath, that “intelligence services of a country outside Europe indicated they had knowledge of his presence in Greece,” the minister said, without specifying which country.
Abaaoud was linked to a foiled April plot to attack a church near Paris, Cazeneuve said, and police were also probing possible links to a thwarted assault on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in August.
As the Paris probe widened to countries across Europe, Belgian police arrested nine people in Brussels, seven of them in raids linked to a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the French national stadium last Friday, prosecutors said.
Italy was also hunting five suspects after an FBI tip-off about possible jihadist attacks on landmark sites including St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, the foreign minister said.
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