World

Paris attacks: How the Saint-Denis raid unfolded

A building damaged by an anti-terror operation in Saint-Denis, Paris Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The raid damaged nearby buildings

Just days after co-ordinated gun and suicide bomb attacks on multiple locations in Paris left 129 people dead, police raided a flat in a northern Paris suburb, leading to scenes that witnesses said resembled a warzone.

More than 5,000 shots were fired in the operation that began early on Wednesday and ended with at least two suspects dead and eight arrests.

Here is how the raid unfolded. All times are local (GMT+1).

Early morning Wednesday: Some 110 commandos and other police surround a flat on the Rue de Corbillon in Saint Denis.

Their main target is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, thought to have been the ringleader of last week's attacks. Phone and financial intercepts point to his presence in the building.

The security forces are armed with assault rifles and grenades, with support from snipers, in what Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins will later call an "extremely difficult" operation.

04:16: Locals report waking up to gunfire and explosions. The raid has begun.

Police attempt to blast open the door with explosives, but it does not budge, allowing those inside time to prepare.

A fierce gun battle ensues, lasting about an hour. The suspects inside lob grenades at police.

"I was sleeping and suddenly in my dreams I heard bullets," a woman living nearby told the BBC's Tom Burridge. "I had my earplugs so I took them away... Right away I knew there was something wrong."

04:45: Three men flee the building and are immediately arrested by the surrounding police. One receives gunshot injuries. None of the group have been identified yet.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A total of eight people were arrested

05:00 approx: Eyewitnesses report the sound of gunfire ceasing.

Amid the lull, a police dog named Diesel is sent in to the apartment but is killed by someone inside.

Jean-Michel Fauvergue, who commanded the raid, told Le Figaro that the dog had probably saved the lives of policemen waiting to enter.

05:45 The closure of local schools and transport services begins to be announced. Police warn the public to stay away from the area.

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Media captionTom Burridge visited Saint Denis to speak to residents

Despite safety warnings, crowds gather and people post updates on social media.

"The police said: 'If you leave you can't come back.' We were anxious. My daughters were on the street, crying and panicking, we couldn't stay there," one woman told the BBC.

06:00: Dominique, a woman living in a nearby building, told Liberation that shortly after 06:00 she heard two explosions in short succession and more gunshots ringing out.

She said she thought she had heard footsteps on the roof, possibly from police.

07:00 approx: Exactly what happened around this time is unclear, but it appears that a woman was seen at the window of the flat. She has been named in various media reports as Hasna Aitboulachen, a cousin of Abaaoud.

Image copyright Rex
Image caption This picture purports to show a woman who blew herself up in Saint Denis - believed to be Hasna Aitboulahcen

In amateur recordings obtained by TF1 police are heard asking her: "Where's your boyfriend?" She replied: "It's not my boyfriend."

More gunshots follow, and multiple explosions, with one of them likely to be the woman blowing herself up.

Mr Fauvergue said a segment of spine landed on a police car outside. He also said another suspect was shot but continued to return fire - possibly Abaaoud.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Explosions and gunfire left debris strewn across the street

08:00 French Justice Minister Christine Taubira tweets that the operation has ended - but it still has hours to run.

09:00: The intense gunfire at the start of the night has become more sporadic, with gunfire from one Kalashnikov still being heard.

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Media captionParis attacks: The moment shots were fired in St Denis

Police throw about 20 grenades inside the apartment. A floor of the building, already weakened by the suicide bomber, collapses.

A drone is despatched but it is difficult to tell what is going on inside the building because of the amount of rubble. Police cautiously begin entering the building.

10:00 - 11:00: Inside the flat, police find two men hiding in the rubble. They are both arrested, with one of them dragged out semi-naked.

Separately, another property is raided on the Boulevard Carnot, where a man and a woman are arrested.

The man is named as Jawad Bendaoud. Before he is taken away, he tells reporters that he is the owner of the apartment at the centre of the raid and had lent it to two people from Belgium as a favour for a friend.

"I said there was no mattress. They told me, 'It's not a problem', they just wanted water and to pray," he says.

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Media captionDramatic footage has emerged showing an arrest in Saint-Denis

A man found wounded in the street is also arrested, bringing the total to eight.

11:26: The operation is declared over, seven hours after it started. Five police officers were injured.

At least two suspects died - the female suicide bomber and one other body found in the rubble which is later identified using fingerprints as Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

Such was the chaos - Mr Molins says that "shreds" of bodies were found - other suspects may have died in the raid.

He says the operation has halted a "new terrorist threat", with reports suggesting the group planned on attacking Charles de Gaulle airport and the Paris financial district.