French Official Confirms Chief Planner Of Paris Attacks Died In Raid
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We have breaking news this morning of the death of the man who planned the attacks in Paris last Friday. His name is Abdel Hamid Abaaoud. He was in the apartment that police raided yesterday morning in a Paris suburb. And until now, police had said it was difficult to determine whether he had died in that raid. The Paris prosecutor now says that he did indeed die in that raid. And NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is with me here in Paris. Good morning, Dina.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So what exactly do we know about what happened yesterday?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the prosecutor released a statement that says that they had positively identified Abaaoud. There was some question as to whether or not it would be difficult to actually identify the bodies that were in the apartment because there was so much damage in the apartment. And it appears now that they have confirmed that the so-called planner of these attacks, the man they suspect of having put this all together, died in that attack.
GREENE: So does that - I mean, does that mean that Paris can breathe a sigh of relief now that this man is confirmed as dead?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the problem is there's another person they've been hunting for several days, Saleh Abdelsalam. It's unclear whether he's alive or dead. I had first heard reports this morning that he was dead, now I'm hearing that they think he's in Belgium. So that means there could be someone on the loose. This is a guy who was directly involved with the attacks. He was thought to have been in one of the cars that did the drive-by shootings of the cafes on Friday night.
GREENE: OK, so possible there are more members of this terror cell out there, we just don't know at this point. Why did it take so long for news of this positive identification of Abaaoud to come out?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, part of the reason we were told was first of all, the building where this raid took place, it in fact was quite devastated by the raid. There were grenades, there were -there was a suicide vest, and...
GREENE: ...Like, 5,000 gunshots fired by police, right?
TEMPLE-RASTON: I was just going to say, prosecutors said that there were 5,000 bullets that were fired. And so was a very difficult crime scene, not just because the bodies were difficult to identify, but also because apparently, the structure itself is very, very fragile. And police are having to go into the apartment in a very careful way so they don't fall through the floor.
GREENE: We describe Abaaoud as the person who planned and coordinated the attack in Paris. ISIS, of course, claims responsibility for this attack. Is he an important figure in ISIS?
TEMPLE-RASTON: He's an operative. I know a lot of people have been calling him a mastermind. He is thought to have planned this because he knows Belgium, he knows France, and there were a group of friends that he grew up with in the Molenbeek neighborhood just outside of Brussels that authorities think have some sort of connection to this. Certainly, the person I mentioned before, Saleh Abdelsalam, he actually grew up in this neighborhood. They were friends. In fact, Abaaoud went to prison with Abdelsalam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up at a cafe on Friday night.
GREENE: Let's just get a little bit of a better picture of this terror cell we're describing. You say now the man we believe coordinated this attack is dead. There's another man who could still be on the loose. And then we have this woman who blew herself up with a suicide vest in his apartment yesterday. What do we know about her?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we think - in preliminary tests, it appears that she is his cousin. And she actually...
GREENE: ...Abaaoud's cousin, or...
TEMPLE-RASTON: ...That's right...
TEMPLE-RASTON: Abaaoud's cousin, and she worked nearby. And that was one reason why, when they began putting the threads together, they were pretty certain that Abaaoud was in this apartment, because there was a family member there. She detonated a suicide vest as police were trying to go in. There was a metal-reinforced door. They tried to - the police tried to explode it open, and because it took some time to get through that door, it gave the people inside the apartment, prosecutors said, enough time to arm themselves and to throw grenades and detonate this particular vest.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's counterterrorism correspondent here in Paris. And Steve, we'll be following this news all morning long, but it appears that the man who planned and coordinated the attack here in Paris has been killed.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Thanks, Dina, and thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.