PARIS (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Belgian extremist suspected of masterminding the deadly attacks in Paris died a day ago along with his female cousin in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, French officials said Thursday, adding it was still not clear exactly how he died.
The body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, was found in the building targeted Wednesday in the chaotic, bloody raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis and was identified based on skin samples, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Thursday.
Abaaoud ended up near Paris after reportedly being in Syria but officials have not said how he managed to travel across so many borders en route to the French capital. In addition, authorities have not detailed his exact whereabouts or actions during the deadly rampage that killed 129 people last week in Paris.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France did not know before last week’s deadly attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe, but said he was believed to be behind four of six attacks thwarted since spring by French authorities.
Three police officials have told The Associated Press that a woman who died in the police raid was Abaaoud’s cousin. One said the woman, Hasna Aitboulahcen, is believed to have detonated a suicide vest Wednesday in the building after a brief conversation with police officers.
The official confirmed an audio recording, punctuated by gunshots, in which an officer asks: “Where is your boyfriend?” and she responds angrily: “He’s not my boyfriend!” Then loud bangs are heard.
The three all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to divulge details of the investigation.
French police launched the operation after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and tipoffs suggesting that Abaaoud was holed up in the apartment. Eight people were arrested in the raid.
With France still reeling from the Nov. 13 attacks, France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, voted Thursday to extend a state of emergency for three months. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it likely will be approved.
The state of emergency expands police powers to carry out arrests and searches, and allows authorities to forbid the movement of people and vehicles at specific times and places.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls had pressed for the state of emergency extension, warning that Islamic extremists might at use chemical or biological weapons.
“Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria — but for what it is,” Valls told lawmakers. “We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons.”
Valls did not say there was a specific threat against France involving such weapons, however.
Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials also said Thursday the Islamic State group is aggressively pursuing development of chemical weapons, setting up a branch dedicated to research and experiments with the help of scientists from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.
U.S. intelligence officials don’t believe IS has the capability to develop sophisticated weapons like nerve gas that are most suited for a terrorist attack on a civilian target. So far the group has used mustard gas on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
But Iraqi officials expressed concern that the large safe haven the extremists control since overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria last year has left Iraqi authorities largely in the dark over the IS program.
Elsewhere in Europe, jittery leaders and law enforcement moved to protect their populations as Rob Wainwright, director of the European Union’s police coordination organization Europol, warned of “a very serious escalation” of the terror threat in Europe.
In Italy, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said law enforcement was searching for five people flagged by the FBI in response to a U.S. warning about potential targets following the attacks that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds in the French capital.
The State Department issued a warning Wednesday that St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Milan’s cathedral and La Scala opera house, as well as churches, synagogues, restaurants, theaters and hotels had been identified as “potential targets.”
Danish and Norwegian police were asked to be on the lookout for a man Swedish authorities said is wanted in connection with an investigation into “preparation for a terrorist offense.” Sweden’s Security Service, known as SAPO, said the request was not linked to the Paris attacks.
In Belgium, authorities launched six raids in the Brussels region Thursday linked to Bilal Hadfi, one of the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France.
France has stepped up its airstrikes against extremists in Syria, and French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said Thursday that French forces have destroyed 35 Islamic State targets in Syria since the attacks on Paris. Next week, French President Francois Hollande is going to Washington and Moscow to push for a stronger international coalition against IS.
Francois Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said investigators found a cell phone in a garbage can outside the Bataclan concert hall in eastern Paris where 89 of the victims of Friday’s carnage died. It contained a text message sent about 20 minutes after the massacre began. “We’re off, it’s started,” it read.
Molins said investigators were still trying to identify the recipient of the message.
In its English-language magazine, the Islamic State said it will continue its violence and “retaliate with fire and bloodshed” for insults against the Prophet Muhammad and “the multitudes killed and injured in crusader airstrikes.”
A video was also released by ISIS Wednesday showing images of Times Square. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said it appears to have used old footage and said there have been no new specific threats against New York City.
French authorities have said most of the Friday attackers, five have been identified so far, were unknown to them. But two U.S. officials said that many, though not all, of those identified were on the U.S. no-fly list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
French authorities declared a state of emergency after the attacks, and security forces have conducted 414 raids, making 60 arrests and seizing 75 weapons, including 11 military-style firearms, the Interior Ministry said. Parliament was expected to vote by the end of the week to extend the state of emergency.
A Spanish security official said French authorities had sent a bulletin to police across Europe asking them to watch out for a Citroen Xsara car that could be carrying Salah Abdeslam, whose brother, Brahim, was among the attackers who blew themselves up.
French authorities declared a state of emergency after the attacks, and security forces have conducted 414 raids, making 60 arrests and seizing 75 weapons, including 11 military-style firearms.
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