The head of France’s elite anti-terrorist force Raid has spoken of a battle against terrorists in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis that was so bloody that at one point his officers saw a suicide bomber’s head “fly through the window and land on the other side of the street”.
Jean-Michel Fauvergue spoke after the shootout that led to the death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks.
Mr Fauvergue, 56, described how a dawn raid on a building in the Rue du Corbillon turned into a battle involving the use of grenades by both sides, the firing of 5,000 bullets, and a female suicide bomber detonating her explosives belt.
The police chief told Le Parisien newspaper that officers’ initial attempts to blow open the reinforced door with explosives failed, forfeiting any element of surprise. “We came under fierce fire, and were up against real professionals,” he said. “They took turns to fire in bursts or single shots, so there was no break in their shooting. They were hyper-motivated.”
As the firing continued, he said, “We suddenly saw grenades thrown at our feet, which wounded several of our officers in the arms and legs. We replied using the same means. The shooting calmed down a bit. We sent in a dog [called Diesel] to explore the place. It was killed, but without doubt it saved the lives of the officers who were getting ready to enter.”
At one point a long burst of gunfire was followed by a loud explosion. “That’s when we saw a human body, a woman’s head, fly through the window and land on the pavement, on the other side of the street,” he said. “A suicide bomber had just blown themselves up, with such force that a supporting wall moved.” The suicide bomber was Abaaoud’s cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, and according to reports part of her spine landed on a police car.
Mr Fauvergue said that his officers remained unclear as to how many opponents they faced. “Our snipers hit one terrorist, but the firing continued. Either he was fighting for his life or a third man was inside, so officers saturated the place with grenades.”
When the shootout ended, said Mr Fauvergue, floors had collapsed and reduced parts of the building to rubble. “Despite meticulous searches, we couldn’t establish whether there were two dead terrorists or three,” he said. Identification of Abaaoud required matching traces of skin to fingerprints taken by Belgian police.
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