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Mayhem in a Paris suburb as police search for mastermind

French police made an early morning raid on an apartment in a suburb of Paris to disrupt another conspiracy for an imminent terrorist attack. Seven were arrested and two died, but the target was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader of the Paris plot, was not confirmed to be among them. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant and Hari Sreenivasan update Gwen Ifill from Paris.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The hunt for culprits in the Paris attack triggered a seven-hour gun battle today. But after multiple explosions and 5,000 rounds fired, there was no official confirmation that the accused leader of the attacks had been killed.

    We begin our coverage with Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The terrible staccato of gunfire echoed across the Saint-Denis neighborhood overnight, as police fought a furious battle with suspects holed up in a third-floor apartment.

    French authorities say police stormed the building to disrupt an imminent terrorist attack. A woman in the apartment detonated a suicide vest, killing only herself. A man was killed in the fusillade of bullets and another explosion.

    Seven other men and a woman were arrested. Mobile phone video shot by witnesses showed unidentified men being hustled away. The target was the alleged ringleader of the Paris plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, seen here in an undated Islamic State social media video.

  • FRANCOIS MOLINS, Paris Prosecutor (through interpreter):

    Paris prosecutor Francois Molins spoke some hours after the raid's end. We have done a lot of work, which has allowed us to obtain, through telephony, surveillance and witness statements, elements that could allow us to think that Abaaoud might be in a conspirators' apartment in Saint-Denis.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    It was earlier thought that Abaaoud was in Syria. After the gunfight, French military lined the streets, and police frisked passersby, as witnesses told of enduring hours of mayhem.

  • SAMI BEN-ABDELKADER, Witness:

    It was like war. It was very, very noisy, what I heard. And, after, I understand that it was guns and bombs.

  • NADIA LALA, Witness (through interpreter):

    I spoke to the emergency service. They said the police were on site and not to worry. So I thought fine. But then there was machine gun fire for half-an-hour. Machine guns in town, of course, you are going to find that scary. MALCOLM BRABANT: Another witness wished to remain anonymous:

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    There was lots of gunfire. There was a policewoman who got injured. Other police officers were also wounded. There's a pool of blood over there. I don't know who was the victim.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Saint-Denis, a relatively poor district just north of the Paris beltway, is now effectively under military occupation. It has a large Muslim population among its 120,000 residents and is something of a melting pot.

    But, as one local man said today, that mixing goes only so far for some.

  • MOHAMMAD TRABELSY, France (through interpreter):

    Our young people, frankly, feel quite separate, excluded from society. Our young people have no professional training. Our young people, they only have cigarettes, joints, and all manner of mind-altering drugs.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    But Nacho Petit Collot, a human rights activist who lives in Saint-Denis, is keen to emphasize that turning to extreme Islam is not a choice for the majority of young residents.

  • NACHO PETIT COLLOT, Human Rights Activist:

    Some people are fragilized mentally. Some people can be, you know, turned, brainwashed for whatever reasons that make radicalization one exit. But let's not stigmatize Saint-Denis or any other neighborhood, saying that this is the exit.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Although two terrorists are dead, and more are in custody, there's no sense of complacency on the streets of Paris tonight. And the big question tonight is, what has happened to Salah Abdeslam, one of three brothers who was involved in the Paris attacks, and who has so far evaded all attempts to capture him?

    French authorities declared a state of emergency following the attacks, during which time security forces have conducted over 400 raids, making dozens of arrests. France's Parliament will vote later this week on an extension of that emergency for a further three months.

    Today, President Francois Hollande said the grief and anger caused by the attacks must translate into action.

  • PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter):

    The emotion is immense. The anger is too. Each of us is experiencing an intense feeling of compassion for the victims of the attacks, and, at the same time, a demand for action, in order to neutralize those who committed these crimes.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    And in Germany, where a bomb scare at a soccer match last night in Hannover shook the country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said determination must be shown in the face of terrorism. She'd been scheduled to attend the game between Germany and the Netherlands.

  • ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor, Germany (through interpreter):

    This cowardly attack was nothing else than an attack on our freedom. And there can only be one answer to it, and that is determination. And that is why Germany supports France in order to fight against terrorist and its backers.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Meanwhile, French jets again hit Islamic State targets in Syria today, while the military announced that the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left port steaming toward the region to reinforce their operations.

    Back in Paris, President Hollande said the attacks must compel international unity to take on the Islamic State.

  • FRANCOIS HOLLANDE (through interpreter):

    I know very well that every country doesn't have the same interests, nor the same ideas, nor necessarily the same allies. But what's at stake here is putting an end to, destroying an army that threatens the entire world.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    But, for now, Islamic State militants show no signs of giving way. Instead, their online magazine carried a photo today, purporting to show the bomb, housed in a soft drink can, that brought down a Russian jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in late October.

    The Russians said yesterday they had determined that a bomb had indeed downed the plane, and they continued a heavy bombardment in Syria today, including strikes at the Islamic State.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And Hari and Malcolm join me now.

    Malcolm, you spent the day in Saint-Denis. Tell us what the conditions are like in that neighborhood, whatever you can tell us about that neighborhood.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    What was most striking, Gwen, was the fact that this place really did look like a city in war.

    In Europe, you're used to seeing police around the place, but you're not used to seeing soldiers out on the streets, and this place really was under military control today. And a colleague of mine said that it resembled Belfast perhaps in the sort of 1980s.

    But it was not like Belfast. It's much more serious than that, because the British, for example, were not facing terrorists like this who are prepared to die. And you wouldn't have 5,000 rounds being fired.

    The atmosphere in the place was really quite tense indeed. Most people were staying off the streets because they were so scared about what was happening.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    One of the questions which have often come up, Malcolm, about immigration in Paris is that — or in Europe in general — is that there hasn't been that much assimilation, that a lot of people have gathered in their own neighborhoods. Is that what Saint-Denis represents?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Very much so. It is part of segregated Paris.

    And one of the things that President Hollande has been trying to say today is that France really wants to be generous to people coming in, and it will honor its commitment to allow 30,000 Syrians to come in.

    But the problem that he's going to have is trying to assimilate these people, because these kinds of places like Saint-Denis and Molenbeek in Brussels, where there was this shoot-out the other day, there are lots of these places all around Europe where immigrants have gathered, where they feel disenfranchised, where they don't have the same kind of opportunities.

    And more of these refugees are coming in. And they perhaps are going to end up even worse off than those people who are already there. And so the problem that Europe has is trying to be generous, but at the same time, it must make sure that there is integration, segregation — no segregation, and that there are opportunities for these people. And that's really difficult, especially as the economies of these countries are getting worse.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And, Hari, you have now been on the ground several days in Paris. And I wonder whether this feels more like a police operation or more like wartime footing. What is the city feeling likes these days?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right.

    Even today, when we were at different places that usually you would see flocks of tourists with their cameras, what we saw were people in military fatigues carrying machine guns. And what's strange is that the Parisians that are just going about their daily lives as best they can have almost gotten used to it.

    I mean, this is what we have really seen in the last three or four days. They have gotten used to the sirens blaring at all hours of the night. They have gotten used to this military presence.

    And it's a different feeling, because you look at it. This is a world-class city. It's a place where so many people come to vacation and holiday. But maybe this isn't the best place to be, if that's the environment that you're going to be in, where you're constantly feeling surveilled.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Too soon to say that things have returned to normalcy, I guess.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes, yes.

    It's also — the hard part is that it's almost a cycle of suspicion, right, that now there are these immigrants or there are perhaps refugees that are going to get a second look or a third look, not just from the police, but other people that are normal Parisians. And perhaps that's the that's the beginning of their feeling where, wow, maybe I'm a second-class citizen here.

    And that just opens up them to, you know, recruiting by ISIS.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You guys have been doing great work. We will return to Hari and to his reporting on how the Paris attacks are changing attitudes about Europe's open borders after the news summary.

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