Alleged organiser of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has reportedly been killed in raids north of the French capital, according to “two senior European officials”.
The reports are unconfirmed, with Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins unable to be certain that Abaaoud was one of ‘at least two dead’ when more than 100 police and soldiers stormed a Saint-Denis apartment.
But the Washington Post reported that Abaaoud was killed in the raids, which also saw eight people arrested – although wanted suspect Salah Abdeslam was not among them – following Friday’s deadly terror attacks that killed 129 people and injured 350.
All Mr Molins could confirm was that Abaaoud was not arrested, but did tell a news conference that the suspect had “entrenched himself on the third floor” of the apartment building where the raids took place.
However, Reuters reported the body found at the site of the raid was too badly damaged to be identified at this stage.
A woman also died during the stand-off at the Saint-Denis apartment – which, chillingly, Mr Molins said was the site of a “terrorist team planning new attacks”.
The woman detonated a suicide belt she was wearing during the operation, which was said to have lasted about seven hours.
Named as Hasna Aitboulahcn, believed to be a cousin to the Islamic State militant who planned the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, she was told to remain where she was, but returned inside.
She later detonated an explosive vest, killing herself and collapsing the floor of the apartment, according to The Telegraph.
The raid continued for several hours.
“It was an extremely difficult assault, because the armoured door did not give way straight away to police explosives, thus allowing the terrorists to prepare their riposte,” Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins said.
“Very heavy, almost uninterrupted gunfire ensued for almost an hour.”
There were an estimated 5000 munitions fired by police in the Saint-Denis raid, which took place in two adjacent flats and uncovered a “total war arsenal” of weapons, including “rifles … and explosive belts.”
Several injuries were sustained by police during the operation, the prosecutor’s office confirmed.
Some local residents were evacuated and authorities warned residents to keep away from windows.
Hayat, 26, had been leaving a friend’s apartment where she had spent the night when the shots rang out just after 4:00am.
“I heard gunfire. I could have been hit by a bullet,” she said. “I never thought terrorists could have hid here.”
Abaaoud was initially thought to have orchestrated the Paris attacks from Syria, police and justice sources said.
Saint-Denis is near the Stade de France, one of several locations targeted in the attacks last Friday night.
Police say there were at least nine attackers, seven of whom died during the attacks, including six who detonated vests laden with explosives.
The latest raid is the newest reaction from the French government, who have launched a series of anti-terror operations in the country and in Belgium after Friday’s tragedy.
France has also carried out to airstrikes on Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa, in Syria.
Paris aftershocks flow around the world
Meanwhile, German police foiled a planned attack targeting a friendly international football match between Germany and the Netherlands on Tuesday (local time), with the game cancelled just 90 minutes before the start time.
Hannover Chief of Police Volker Kluwe said police had “concrete warnings that someone in the stadium wanted to detonate explosives”.
The world is on high alert as a wave of aftershocks ripple across the globe following the deadly terror attacks in Paris.
Later on Wednesday, two Air France flights travelling out of the US were redirected after reports of security threats.
One flight heading from Los Angeles to Paris was diverted due to a “security incident”, while a second Air France Flight 65 triggered a forced landing at Salt Lake City after a bomb threat was called in from the ground, a US Federal Aviation Administration confirmed.
Locally, Australians are also on watch for suspicious behaviour and potential threats to the community.
During the early hours of Wednesday morning, witnesses notified police about a flag that was erected on a Princes Highway overpass in Melbourne’s west, which they thought depicted an “IS or similar” symbol.
Police were quick to quash suggestions that the flag was linked to the terrorist group and removed it.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a pair of shoes brought part of Melbourne’s CBD to a halt when police attended to a “suspicious package” left behind near Southern Cross Station.
The bomb squad was called in and inspected the bag marked with shoe label ‘Windsor Smith’ and found a box containing shoes.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday following the German foiled attack that these such events should not stop people from going about their everyday lives.
“We should not allow the threat of terrorism to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of people,” Ms Bishop said.
“It also underscored the need for strong co-operation with overseas intelligence agencies.
“We are exceedingly prepared for any potential attack.”
– with reporting by Kaitlin Thals, Emma Manser and James Willoughby