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Russia says it's planning joint anti-ISIS operations with France

A French sailor checks a Super-Etendard fighter jet on the deck of France's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before it leaves its home port of Toulon on Wednesday. France has deployed its aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean to help fight ISIS.
A French sailor checks a Super-Etendard fighter jet on the deck of France's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before it leaves its home port of Toulon on Wednesday. France has deployed its aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean to help fight ISIS.
Claude Paris/AP

A U.S. official says Russia is now newly receptive to joining the fight against ISIS, and a Russian general announced that Russian forces were working on joint anti-terrorism operations with the French navy. Meanwhile, heavily armed French SWAT teams swooped in Wednesday and neutralized a cell planning to launch new attacks — firing 5,000 rounds during an hours-long battle that left at least two people dead, including a woman who exploded an explosives belt, a prosecutor said. The raid in the Saint-Denis neighborhood north of Paris had targeted the suspected planner of the attacks, 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, but his fate remained unclear. Meanwhile, the California band Eagles of Death Metal is home safe but has halted all performances until further notice. Band members were performing at the Bataclan concert hall Friday when the terrorist attacks occurred.

Updates

Updated 4:40 p.m.: Russia says it's planning joint anti-ISIS operations with France

When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position near Syria's coast, it will find what until recently might have seemed an unlikely ally: a Russian guided missile cruiser. A U.S. official says Russia is newly receptive to cooperation in Syria.

"Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," says Colonel-General Andrey Kartapolov of Russia's General Staff, according to state news outlet Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations."

The carrier left its French port Wednesday, on a mission that has even greater significance now than it did when it was first announced on Nov. 5. The warship also left one day after Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered his navy to work with the French force as allies.

"Life indeed moves on, often very quickly, and teaches us lessons," Putin said, as the Two-Way reported. "It seems to me that everyone is coming around to the realization that we can wage an effective fight only together."

Providing the U.S. view of the new development, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that if Russia is more cooperative now, it might specifically be because of its military intervention in Syria.

Admitting that his logic is "almost counter-intuitive," Blinken says that when Russia started bombing targets in Syria, two things happened: First, it increased Russia's influence over Syria's President Bashar Assad; second, it placed pressure on Russia to bring about a political solution, because the country's leaders realize they can't sustain a Syrian offensive indefinitely.

In France, chief foreign editor Rob Parsons of FRANCE24 says cooperation between Russia and the West could be a game-changer if the nations involved can agree on Syria's future — and on Assad's fate.

"If [the French and the Russians] are going to cooperate together, they'll presumably have to coordinate their targeting," Parsons says. "It's extremely complicated, it all goes out to the heart of the problem of finding a joint solution on Syria."

Both the French and Russian forces are now striking at targets within Syria — and today, Tass says Russia's pilots have been told to hunt down and destroy tanker trucks that ISIS is using to move crude oil and petroleum products as part of its finance operation.

Citing Kartapolov, Tass reports, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining."

 

— NPR

Updated 11:20 a.m.: Eagles Of Death Metal members are safe, 'horrified' by Paris attacks

Members of the Eagles of Death Metal band say they're home safe after the Paris attacks and "are horrified and still trying to come to terms with what happened in France."

The U.S. band was performing at the Bataclan when the deadly attacks occurred. Last Friday's night of terror in Paris killed 129 people and wounded over 350 others.

"Our thoughts and hearts are first and foremost with our brother Nick Alexander, our record company comrades Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser, and Manu Perez, and all the friends and fans whose lives were taken in Paris, as well as their friends, families, and loved ones," the band said in a statement released Wednesday.

Eagles of Death Metal released a new album, "Zipper Down," last month. They were on a European tour. The band said all shows are on hold until further notice.

"Although bonded in grief with the victims, the fans, the families, the citizens of Paris, and all those affected by terrorism, we are proud to stand together, with our new family, now united by a common goal of love and compassion," the band said.

Eagles of Death Metal was formed in 1998 in Palm Desert, California. Josh Homme, one of the founders of the band and leader of the band Queens of the Stone Age, wasn't performing with Eagles of Death Metal in Paris.

The band closed its statement by thanking "the French police, the FBI, the U.S. and French State Departments, and especially all those at ground zero with us who helped each other as best they could during this unimaginable ordeal, proving once again that love overshadows evil."

— AP

Updated 11:03 a.m.: Paris attacks mastermind not arrested in raid

Heavily armed French SWAT teams swooped in Wednesday and neutralized a cell that was planning to launch new attacks, firing 5,000 rounds during an hours-long battle that left at least two people dead, including a woman who exploded an explosives belt, a prosecutor said.

The raid had targeted the suspected planner of the attacks, 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, but his fate remained unclear.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the identities of the dead were still being investigated, but that neither Abaoud nor the fugitive attacker Salah Abdeslam was in custody.

"At this time, I'm not in a position to give a precise and definitive number for the people who died, nor their identities, but there are at least two dead people," he told reporters.

Molins said heavily armed police squads initially were thwarted by a reinforced door to the apartment in the Saint-Denis neighborhood north of Paris and faced nearly incessant fire as they worked to enter.

Earlier, the prosecutor said the raid was launched after information from tapped telephone conversations, surveillance and witness accounts indicated that Abaaoud might be in a safe house in the Saint-Denis suburb.

Investigators have identified Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of Friday's attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and wounded 368 others.

Abaaoud is believed to have escaped to Syria after a January police raid in Belgium, but he has bragged in Islamic State propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.

The site of Wednesday's raid is just over a mile (less than two kilometers) from the Stade de France soccer stadium; three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium during an international soccer match Friday.

They were one of three teams of attackers who also targeted a rock concert at the Bataclan theater as well popular night spots in a trendy Paris neighborhood. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, which has left France in mourning and on edge.

On Wednesday, residents of Paris' Saint-Denis neighborhood were shocked awake by an explosion at around 4:20 a.m.

Amine Guizani said the blast was followed by the sound of grenades and automatic gunfire.

"It was continuous. It didn't stop," he said. "It lasted from 4:20 until 5:30. It was a good hour. I couldn't say how many shots were fired, but it was probably 500. Hundreds, definitely. There were maybe 10 explosions."

Police cordoned off an area around the building in a narrow street lined with low-rise buildings. Riot police cleared people from the streets, pointing guns at residents to move them off the roads.

"We tried to stop our children hearing the noise," said Farah Appane, who lives about 80 yards (meters) from where the raid took place. "My 19-month-old was crying. Our 8-year-old said 'What is it? Are there more attacks?'"

She said she could hear gunfire on and off for over an hour, followed by "one really huge boom."

"It was when the woman exploded herself. It made our apartment shake it was so strong," Appane said

Molins said the operation began with a pre-dawn shootout and resulted in the arrest of eight people, including two found in the rubble and the man whose apartment was used as the cell's hideaway.

Several police officers were slightly injured and a SWAT team police dog was killed in the operation. The National Police said in a tweet that the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois named Diesel was "killed by terrorists."

Neither Molins nor French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve would say whether some attackers might still be on the loose.

French authorities had previously said that at least eight people were directly involved in the bloodshed: seven who died in the attacks and one, Salah Abdeslam, who got away and slipped across the border to Belgium.

The Paris attacks have galvanized international determination to confront the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, bringing France, Russia and the United States closer to an alliance.

Speaking after Wednesday's raid, French President Francois Hollande praised the bravery of the security services and said that France was "at war" with IS, which he called a global threat.

"It is the entire country that's been attacked," Hollande told a gathering of French mayors. "For what it represents, the fight we are leading to eradicate terrorism. And simply for what we are."

French fighter jets attacked Islamic State targets in Syria for a third night, the defense ministry said. Hollande said French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle had left to support military operations against IS in Syria.

He called for a "large coalition" against IS militants to destroy a group that threatens the whole world and "commits massacres" in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, France's justice minister updated the overall number of wounded in the Paris attacks to 368 people, up from 352. The health minister said 195 people remained hospitalized, 41 in intensive care and three in critical condition.

French authorities declared a state of emergency after the attacks, and security forces have conducted 414 raids, making 60 arrests and seizing 75 weapons, including 11 military-style firearms, the Interior Ministry said.

Parliament is expected to vote by the end of the week to extend the state of emergency for three months.

France — and the rest of Europe — remains on edge.

Two Air France flights bound for Paris from the U.S. were diverted Tuesday night — one to Salt Lake City and one to Halifax — because of anonymous threats received after they had taken off. Both were inspected and cleared to resume their journeys.

On Wednesday, anxiety rippled through Saint-Denis, a historic area where French kings were crowned and buried through the centuries in the majestic Gothic basilica. The district is home to a vibrant and ethnically diverse population and sees sporadic tension between police and violent youths.

As autumn sunshine lit up the basilica's stone tower, cameramen, police and residents waited nervously in the central Place Victor Hugo, as sirens echo around the neighborhood.

"This is crazy— the only time I've seen this square so full was for a wedding," said Madeleine Frachon, an 80-year-old resident.

"We've lived here 58 years. It used to be very different here, I'll tell you," she said. "I hope this will mean Saint-Denis will get cleaned up. It's high time."

— Associated Press reporters Thomas Adamson and Jill Lawless. Lawless reported from Paris. AP writers Raphael Satter in Saint-Denis, Philippe Sotto, Sylvie Corbet, Lori Hinnant, Angela Charlton and Jamey Keaten in Paris, David Rising in Berlin, Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Ken Dilanian and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.

6:58 a.m.: Police siege ends with at least 2 dead, 7 suspects arrested

A huge and violent police operation in the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris is over. At least two people are dead and seven people were arrested.

According to François Molins, chief prosecutor of France, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who police believe orchestrated the attacks on Paris, may have been in one of the apartments targeted by the raid.

Molins said one woman died after detonating a suicide vest and another "terrorist" was killed during the confrontation with police. None of the dead, Molins said, have been positively identified.

In a speech to French mayors, President François Hollande said the operation was intended to "neutralize terrorists" with connection to the attacks of last week.

"These acts show once again that we are at war," Hollande said. "At war against terrorism, terrorism, which declared war on us."

The operation started at around 4 a.m. Paris time, when explosions and gunfire could be heard near two apartments in Saint-Denis.

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"They were shooting for an hour. Nonstop. There were grenades. It was going, stopping. Kalashnikovs. Starting again," Amine Guizani, who witnessed the raid, told French media.

The mayor of Saint-Denis said public transport was closed and schools in the center of town would not hold classes on Wednesday.

Authorities across Europe have been on the hunt for two suspects they believe were directly involved the series of terrorist attacks that left 129 people dead.

There's no word yet on whether either of those suspects were apprehended.

In a statement earlier, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that since France instituted a state of emergency, authorities had conducted 414 searches, arrested 64 people and confined 118 people to their homes.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reported that French authorities have been very worried about a follow-on attack.

"They had credible evidence that something was in the offing," she reported. But it is unclear if this operation eased some of those concerns.

Meanwhile, French national police said that a seven-year-old Belgian Malinois named Diesel was killed during the raid in Saint-Denis.

They tweeted this photo:

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In a speech to the country's mayors, French President François Hollande described today's operation as intended to "neutralize terrorists" with connection to the attacks of last week.

"These acts show once again that we are at war — at war against terrorism, terrorism, which declared war on us," Hollande said.

The French president again blamed the Islamic State for the attacks, saying they have proven to have an army, financial support, territory as well as allies "in Europe, including in our country with young, radicalized people."

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this background on Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind behind the Paris attacks:

He is a Belgian national in his late 20s who is believed to be close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

Counter-terrorism officials say he may be the link between the group's senior leaders and operatives in Europe. He is the suspect behind a terror cell police broke up in eastern Belgium in January and he's linked to the foiled attack aboard a Thalys train headed to Paris last August.

— Eyder Peralta and Marie Andrusewicz/NPR 

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