© Lewis Joly/SIPA/REX ShutterstockA view of the emergency vehicles at the scene of the operation in Saint-Denis.
This is a follow-up to my previous piece, Bearded Middle East Jihadis or clean-shaven white professional hit-men? A few questions about the Paris attacks. So far, no new identities of the terrorists have been released. We still don't know who blew himself up on the Rue de la Coquerie, or the identity of the third bomber in the Bataclan theater. We also don't know how many people were involved in the string of restaurant shootings, although one is believed to have been Salah Abdeslam, who is still on the run.That large, clean-shaved white guy shooter is still a mystery too, as is the new, black Mercedes car that he and an accomplice drove.

French police say they have video of one of the shootings which shows three individuals in a black Seat (the same one found later in Paris suburb Montreuil with three AK-47s) firing through the car windows. According to them, Brahim Abdeslam is one of the men. Another is presumably his brother, Salah, and the third remains unidentified, adding one more to the official tally of men on the run. So, according to police, 9 individuals were directly involved in the shootings and bombings last Friday. The video has not been released to the public.

Police have also released more details of Salah's alleged involvement. A third car, a black Renault Clio, which they say was rented by Salah, was found in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Islamic State, in their statement claiming responsibility for the attacks, had mentioned the 10th and 11th districts (where the attacks took place), as well as the 18th, leading police to suspect an attack had been planned for that district but abandoned for some reason.

They also identified two safe houses allegedly used: two hotel rooms in Alfortville booked by Salah using his credit card two nights before the attack (a video of the room shows it littered with syringes and pizza boxes), and an apartment in Bobigny rented by Brahim for November 10-17. The three men who stayed in the apartment told the owner they worked for a Belgian security company. "They were very kind," she told Europe 1. "There was nothing noticeable about them. They were nice, proper, well dressed. They didn't have beards and were wearing normal clothes."

Early Saturday morning, Salah had been stopped by police near the French-Belgian border for a routine check, traveling in a VW Golf with two other men, Mohammed Amri (27) and Hamza Attouh (21). They were were allowed to pass, as their names were not yet on any wanted list. The two other men were among the 7 arrested in a raid the day after in Belgium. While the other 5 (including Brahim and Salah's brother) were later released, Amri and Attouh are being held on terrorism charges. They deny the charges, Amri saying he just went to Paris to give his friend Salah a ride back to Belgium, and Attou saying he just came along to keep Amri company.

More details about Salah have emerged:
In an interview with Reuters, one friend Nabil claimed Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim - one of the terrorists who gunned down concert goers at the Bataclan before blowing himself up with a suicide belt - were "regular guys who enjoyed a laugh," while another, Hicham, said that the brothers played cards and talked about football, but "never Islam or anything jihadist."

"He was a really nice guy," neighbor Sheraz Sheik told journalists about Salah Abdeslam. "He was really well dressed, wearing designer clothes, no beard. A really smart guy, he'd gone to school and was really intelligent."

Whether it was a skillful cover or a legitimate business venture, the brothers opened a bar in their hometown two years ago, called the Cafe Des Beguines - named after a Christian monastic order - which served alcohol, a substance Ibrahim Abdeslam at least would openly consume, in contravention to Islamic proscriptions.
The big news is the raid on another safe house: an apartment in St-Denis 2 km from the Stade de France. On Wednesday morning, explosions and shooting began at 4:20 am. In the first 2 hours, there were reports of several police injured, 3 deaths, including a female suicide bomber, a bystander (not mentioned in later reports), and a man. The latter was first reported as having been killed by a police sniper, then by a grenade, or as a result of the bomb that killed the woman. Around 100 army troops were called in at 7 am. Two or three men were still reportedly barricaded in the apartment, exchanging fire with police. After several lulls followed by more shooting and explosions, the raid finally ended at 11:37. By then, French police and armed forces allegedly had fired around 5000 rounds of ammunition and used several grenades.

Thirty minutes after the raid started, three men were arrested after fleeing the apartment. At 6:15, a woman appeared in the apartment window. From the Guardian:
A sound engineer recorded the exchange: The police shouted twice: "Where's your friend?" Each time she replied, her tone frantic: "It's not my friend." A second later there was a dramatic explosion.

[Guardian later reported this exchange as "Where is your boyfriend?" and she responded angrily: "He's not my boyfriend!" before a huge explosion was heard.]

One eyewitness, Christian, 20, gave an account to Le Parisien newspaper. He said: "During a 10- or 15-minute lull in the shooting I heard a woman shouting: 'Help, help, help me!' The police asked her to identify herself and to show herself. She showed her hands, but she didn't reveal her face. She withdrew them and then put them up again several times. They shouted at her: 'Keep your hands in the air!' They told her: 'We're going to shoot.'

"The shooting resumed. The police were firing from the roof of the building opposite. Suddenly there was an enormous explosion [from the window, inside the flat]. It was probably the woman who blew herself up. The windows shattered. Lots of objects from the apartment were thrown into the street, pieces of human flesh as well. They are still there. You can see a bit of the head, of skin, of ribs."

Another witness, Thibault Chaffotte, told Libération: "I heard police talking about a blonde woman with long hair. I believe this was the suicide bomber. They told her: 'Don't lower your arms. Put your hands in the air.' Afterwards, there was a very loud explosion. I think that's when she activated her bomb. It was big. Many of the windows in the road shattered."
Here's the recording:

And more accounts from the Daily Mail:
'The woman terrorist cried out before she set off her bomb,' eye witness Yasmine told MailOnline. 'I heard the woman crying out. She was speaking in Arabic. She said Allah Akbar - God is great - and then there was a loud bang.' Yasmine, 36, called the police but was told not to be concerned as it was a domestic argument.
Another eyewitness gave MailOnline the first full description of the woman who blew herself up in the early hours of this morning.

Mahdi Hadi, 22, said he was smoking in the street on the afternoon before the raid at about 3:30am when he saw her walk past to buy a takeaway at the nearby KFC. MailOnline has been unable to independently confirm this account.

'She was not pretty. She was wearing a denim jacket and jeans and a white scarf. I did not think she looked French, maybe Brazillian,' he said. 'She had frizzy hair and was not wearing a headscarf. She was of normal weight and about 1metre 75cm (5ft 9in) tall. She walked past me and went into the KFC, then later came back with some food and went into the flat. She was totally casual and relaxed, nothing seemed to be worrying her.'
So what was it? "Help me! Help me!" or "Allahu Akbar!"? And what leads them to believe it was a suicide bombing? What about a SWAT grenade, or a bomb detonated by someone else in the apartment? In the recording, the woman clearly sounds distressed, and just like the Stade de France attacks, this 'bombing' did not target anyone except the alleged bomber - not your typical suicide bombing. And how did the man die? Sniper, multiple gunshots, grenade, or suicide vest? If he died at the same time as the woman, as some reports suggest, and if he died from a grenade, is it possible the woman died from the same cause? These kinds of conflicting statements also defined the end-game of the Toulouse shootings in 2012.

At 6:20, the apartment's tenant/landlord Jawad Bendaoud and a female friend were arrested. He had just previously told BFMTV: "A friend asked me to let the flat to two friends for a few days. They told me they wanted to rent it so I did. I had absolutely no idea they were terrorists." Two additional arrests included the two men alleged to have barricaded themselves in the apartment. They were found buried in the rubble of the wrecked apartment. A wounded man found on the street was also arrested. Oddly, this video shows one of the arrests. Police address the suspect in English:

By 7:09 pm, French prosecutor Francois Molins said police still could not identify who had been killed. Their reasoning: the damage due to the explosions and heavy weaponry collapsed the entire third floor and the bodies were mangled beyond recognition, requiring forensic testing to determine who they were. Despite rumors that the victims included alleged Belgian 'mastermind' Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen (including a report from the Washington Post), it wasn't until the next day that police confirmed these details. They ID'd Abaaoud from skin samples found at the scene, and fingerprints. His body had been found "riddled with bullets".

The reason for the raid: based on a tip-off on Monday, police placed his cousin under surveillance, and identified the apartment as a probable place that Abaaoud would be hiding out. In early reports, they had said the raid had to do with the unidentified ninth attacker and the fugitive Salah Abdeslam. Salah and Abaaoud were reportedly childhood friends. When Salah was jailed for armed robbery in 2010, his accomplice was Abaaoud.

Abaaoud was thought to still be in Syria. He left Belgium in January 2014 and traveled through Turkey to Syria where he fought for Islamic State. He was subject of a European and international arrest warrant from Belgium, having been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for terrorism recruitment. He was allegedly linked to several previous terrorist plots in France and Belgium and was known to authorities. It was only 3 days after the Paris attacks that France learned "from a national intelligence service outside Europe" that he had been sighted in Greece. It's possible he only arrived in France 3 days after the attacks. No officials have explained how exactly he entered the EU.

Meanwhile, France has passed its state of emergency bill, allowing for warrant-less searches of just about anyone, among other measures. Brussels has launched nine more raids and detained nine more people, and the Belgian government has introduced "a raft of some quite draconian new security measures."


French authorities have confirmed there was a third death in the St-Denis raid. There are conflicting reports of whether it is a man or a woman:
The Independent: The Paris public prosecutor's office said the woman's remains were found in Saint-Denis overnight, almost two days after armed police raided the building.
The Guardian: We've spoken to the Paris prosecutor's office, which has clarified that in the aftermath of the raid on St-Denis they have found:
  • The body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud
  • A woman's body - and the passport of Hasna Aitboulahcen
  • A third unidentified body, which a spokeswoman told the Guardian was "in all likelihood that of a man".
Also, more on the movements of Salah Abdeslam from Belgian website
An alleged friend of the fugitive claims Abdeslam was in Molenbeek as recently as Tuesday night, despite a Europe-wide manhunt.

"Salah is in Molenbeek. I met him on Tuesday night. He was there, but not for long," the friend reportedly told the website. He said Abdeslam had met him in order to get him to give a message to his brother, Mohamed.

"He told me he had gone too far. It went beyond what it was meant to be. But he could not turn himself in. This could have consequences for his family," the friend said, reportedly implying that Abdeslam feared reprisals from Islamic State against relatives.
More questions about whether Salah and Brahim were practising Muslims:
First, there are the Abdeslam brothers, Brahim and Salah. Both men ran a bar in Brussels called Les Beguines, and were known to partake - fairly heavily - in substances typically frowned upon by the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group. "We're still in shock," a local man named Youssef told Agence France-Presse. "They were friends of ours, big smokers, big drinkers, but not radicals."

Not only were drugs present at Les Beguines, but it was apparently shut down by Belgian authorities. "There was a strong odor of drugs and the ashtrays contained partly smoked joints," a closure notice read, according to AFP, adding that the site was "used for the consumption of banned hallucinogenic substances."

"On Fridays (when Muslims hold their main weekly prayers) they would stay smoking on the terrace. I never saw them at the mosque," said Karim, a young man who lived above the bar, told AFP. "They weren't practicing Muslims. They didn't have big beards, they wore jeans and sneakers, and they drank their Jupiler like everyone else," another friend of the brothers said, referring to a popular brand of Belgian beer. "Their lives were the same as all young people: they liked football, going clubbing, coming back with girls."