Paris Police Still Working To Identify Bodies Recovered In St. Denis Raid

Nov 18, 2015
Originally published on November 18, 2015 6:04 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

French police stormed several apartment buildings in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis this morning. They had hoped to find the man suspected of planning last week's terrorist attacks. After multiple explosions and a hail of gunfire, the police announced that they'd arrested eight people. But in a press conference tonight in Paris, the chief prosecutor said it wasn't clear whether the man behind the attacks or a terrorist who's been at large for days were among the dead. NPR's counter-terrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, is in Paris reporting the story, and she's here with me right now. Hi, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi.

SIEGEL: You know, this morning I was in Saint-Denis. I wanted to see what was going on, and I was hearing from people who live there about how they had awakened in the middle of the night, or 4:30 in the morning, to loud noises. By that time, the streets were barred. All the shops were closed and hundreds of journalists from all over France and all over the world were there trying to find out what had happened. Well, later today, we heard from the Paris prosecutor Francois Molins to tell us what happened. What did he have to say?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, he said a witness and some text messages on a cell phone found near the stadium that was attacked on Friday night led investigators to this apartment in Saint-Denis. Police were given a tip that a man matching the description of the suspected planner of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had gone into this apartment in Saint-Denis. And those pieces of information led to the raid this morning. Abaaoud is thought to be an ISIS operative linked to a number of attacks in both France and Belgium. And officials believe he planned the last Friday's attacks here in Paris.

SIEGEL: Now, the prosecutor said that there were multiple arrests as a result of the raid and several deaths, how many?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there were two or three deaths. The prosecutor said because of the condition of the bodies, identification's been very difficult. At first, they thought they just had two deaths, a woman who detonated a suicide vest and a man who apparently pulled a pin on a grenade and - while he was shooting at police. Now they suspect that there were actually three bodies, two men and a woman. And the identification has been very difficult. And because of that, the prosecutor said he couldn't say with any precision whether Abdelhamid Abaaoud and the second man wanted in the attacks, Saleh Abdesalem, were among the dead. All he would say is that the two of them were not among those he arrested.

SIEGEL: Which means that we'll have to wait to find out.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, and he suggested that this might even take some time, not just because of the conditions of the bodies, but apparently the apartment itself is in ruins. Over 5,000 shots were fired by police in the hour-long siege. In addition to grenades and this igniting of a suicide vest, they also have some concern about the building itself being booby-trapped. French law enforcement sources are saying that the investigation is continuing, and there's still a concern that there might be some follow-on attack, though the American ambassador here said he knows of no specific or credible threat.

SIEGEL: Dina, there is clearly a Syrian connection here. ISIS has claimed responsibility for last Friday's attacks, and the group offered another piece of news today. It published a picture of an improvised bomb that they say brought down that Russian airliner in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt last month.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. The picture was published in the Islamic State's online magazine, Dabiq. And they said it was the kind of improvised bomb that they had put on the plane. And the photo is of a soft drink can, a can of Schweppes Gold, and what appeared to be a detonator and a switch. And the magazine said that the bomb was smuggled on the plane by a security breach in Sharm el-Sheikh airport. And they said the bomb was put on the plane in their words, quote, "so revenge was exacted upon those who feel safe in the cockpits." The U.S. has said that the plane was likely brought down by terrorists last month. And Moscow confirmed only on Tuesday that it had come to the same conclusion. The Egyptian government, for its part, says it hasn't found any evidence of criminal action.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR counter-terrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.