Two dead as French police raid Paris suburb seeking terror suspect

The suburb of St. Denis awoke Wednesday to the sound of gunfire and explosions. French police continue to hunt suspects linked to last week's attacks.

Christophe Ena/AP
Soldiers patrol St. Denis on Wednesday after authorities carried out a raid that appeared to target the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks.

An early morning raid in a Paris suburb Wednesday appeared to target Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of Friday’s terrorist plot, and has led to the arrests of seven people and the deaths of two. But Mr. Abaaoud wasn't located, according to officials. 

Loud gunshots and occasional explosions rippled through the neighborhood of St. Denis, starting around 4:30 a.m. and lasting several hours. One woman, cornered by police, blew herself up with a vest of explosives, Radio France International reports. The raid was launched on intelligence that another attack was “in the works,” reports The Washington Post.

Police trotted through side streets and squares, weapons raised, calling for bystanders to hit the ground this morning. Some residents were evacuated – still wearing their pajamas – and schools were closed. French newspaper Le Monde wrote that St. Denis “awoke in a state of war,” this morning, to the sounds of helicopters, gun shots, and the sight of camouflaged trucks and heavily armed security forces.

The neighborhood is known for its diversity and large Muslim population. “This is a city that has 130 different nationalities, including people who come from war zones. We are a population that needs serenity,” Didier Paillard, the mayor of St.-Denis, told The New York Times.

Scores of raids have been conducted in Paris since Friday's deadly attacks, which left nearly 130 people dead. And 128 raids took place across France last night alone, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France Info radio.

Amid the search for terror suspects, Europe’s growing migrant population has come under the microscope. The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one of the suicide bombers Friday has many concerned that the attacks will spark a backlash against the migrants flowing across the continent, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Migrants have emerged as the scapegoats of the Paris attacks after news broke that a perpetrator of the rampage may have entered France via the migrant trail. The revelation has further stressed a Europe whose sense of solidarity and identity has been profoundly tested by the sheer volume of refugees crossing its borders. Right-wing politicians and heads of state in Europe – now joined by state governors in the United States – are calling for doors and borders to be closed….

“The days of unchecked immigration and illegal entry can’t continue," Bavaria's Finance Minister Markus Söder said over the weekend. "Paris changes everything.”

Others are fighting back against this sentiment, noting that the attacks in Paris represent the very terror and violence most migrants are fleeing in the first place.

Ali Isar, a refugee from Afghanistan, at a migrant camp in northern France told The Monitor that the Paris attacks only confirmed his desire to flee his home. “It’s unbelievable what happened in Paris,” he says. “It’s scary that there is this terrorist group in France now too.”

The mood in the Calais migrant camp, home to some 6,000 refugees and known as the “Jungle”, shifted this weekend after the Paris attacks, reports The Monitor.

Around 200 camp residents from a handful of nationalities took a few moments inside the activities tent, a white dome perched on a mound of dirt, to pray for the victims of the Paris attacks on Friday….

But while changes to immigration policy and threats of closed borders may be on the horizon, most residents of the camp say they will still find a way to continue on their journey. Going back home isn't an option for them. Even with the approaching winter, an increasingly unbearable living situation, and limited prospects for either crossing into the UK or claiming French asylum, most say being at the Jungle is still better than returning home. 

“We feel old. We’re tired of this life,” says Nazhad, whose family sleeps three to a bed in the small camper they’ve been given in the Iraqi section of the camp. “But of course France is better than Iraq. In Iraq there are always bombs. So no, we will stay here.”

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