Authorities Gather Clues After An Early Morning Raid Near Paris

Nov 18, 2015
Originally published on November 18, 2015 10:39 am
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Residents of a northern suburb in this city woke up to the sound of gunfire and explosions. They were told to stay in their homes. Schools have been closed. This is all surrounding an apartment in the neighborhood, the community of Saint-Denis. Police surrounded an apartment before daybreak, and when they burst in, a woman blew herself up using a suicide vest. French authorities have said the operation is over, but there still appears to be police activity all around this community, and a lot of questions remain. My colleague Eleanor Beardsley is on the line from Saint-Denis. And Eleanor, the police are suggesting this operation is over. What are you seeing?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David. Well, I'm standing in front of a police (unintelligible), and they're turning people away, people who were trying to go through areas, so it's still completely blocked off. The tension has dissipated a bit because people had shutters, completely shutters, and now I see heads peeping out. People are opening their windows and shutters and looking out. But the whole area is completely shut down. They don't know if there could be more explosives. So it's still very touch-and-go, and people are still nervous. It's still going on, really.

GREENE: All right, Eleanor, stay on the line if you can. I'm sitting next to NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. It's amazing, Dina. We're sitting here with this calm street behind us in the middle of Paris near a train station and metro station but just a 10-minute metro ride away from this chaos in this neighborhood. I mean, what - can you just give us a sense of why this is happening? Who are police looking for, and have they found who they're looking for?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, it's unclear whether they found who they were looking for. Who they were looking for was the man who is thought to have conceived this attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who's a Belgian national. This whole raid was supposed to be because they thought he was in that apartment. It's very unclear whether he was there. We know that at least two people were killed in the raid. One was a woman suicide bomber, who apparently detonated her vest just as police tried to enter the apartment. And now, well, the operation looks largely over. Police are quite worried that the apartment there is booby-trapped, so they are moving slowly.

GREENE: Booby-trapped, meaning that the people in this apartment presumably might have set up explosive devices or something to keep the police and other people away and to stop the police from coming to get them?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. Well, you know, if you remember the case at the Aurora, Colo., theater shooter, his apartment was elaborately booby-trapped, and it took police hours to try and get into his apartment.

GREENE: Eleanor Beardsley, you're on the ground there in Saint-Denis.


GREENE: Are residents aware that there could be these booby traps, explosive devices? Are people talking about that danger?

BEARDSLEY: People don't really know what to think. This operation has been going on for seven hours, and one of the reasons it has taken so long is because they had to search all the perimeters of the other buildings for exactly that reason. Apparently, the police have had their eyes on this two apartment buildings here, where they suspected a woman of housing this Abdelhamid Abaaoud. People just don't really know what to think. Everything is chaotic. Back from the police lines, I went into a little bar, and people were gathered around a TV drinking coffee and just watching the news, watching what was really unfolding about 200 yards from them. They had to watch it on the news because they couldn't get close to it.

GREENE: All right, Eleanor. And Dina, it sounds like Eleanor was saying that we don't know if this man was even present in this neighborhood. I mean, all we know at this point is that police were searching for Abaaoud, the presumed planner of these attacks in Paris.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And they thought he was in - our source had told us they thought he was in this apartment, but we have not found out yet whether or not he's one of the five - the two people who were killed or one of the five people who appeared to have been arrested.

GREENE: And based on what you know, Dina Temple-Raston, are they hunting for people to hold them responsible for these attacks in Paris last Friday, or are there actually concerns that these are people who might've carried out more attacks in this city or elsewhere?

TEMPLE-RASTON: There was an enormous concern that there were going to be follow-on attacks. This is what happened during the Charlie Hebdo attacks. As soon as they moved in on the men who were behind the magazine office shooting, a second attack started at a supermarket in the Jewish part of Paris. And so there was a concern. Everybody was just braced for what was going to happen next, what the next shoe would be to drop. And there was concern that the people who were in this apartment were the ones who were going to launch that attack.

GREENE: OK, we're going to be following this developing story here in Paris all morning. I'm sitting next to NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Our colleague Eleanor Beardsley is on the line from Saint-Denis. That is a northern suburb of Paris that has just been terrified this morning as a police operation has been underway. The target has been the man police believed to be responsible for planning and carrying out the attacks in Paris last Friday. Dina and Eleanor, thank you both very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

BEARDSLEY: Great, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.