The suspected mastermind of last week’s terrorist attacks that left at least 129 dead in Paris has been killed in a police raid, authorities here confirmed Thursday. The bullet-riddled body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, was found in the charred rubble of an apartment raided early Wednesday in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. But the prosecutor’s office only announced on Thursday that Abaaoud’s corpse, riddled with bullets and shrapnel, had been positively identified via fingerprints. At least one other body, that of a female suicide bomber, was also found in the ruins of the apartment targeted in the raid, during which police fired more than 5,000 bullets and used explosives to break down a reinforced door. Some reports here indicated that the dead woman was Abaaoud’s cousin. The police operation in Saint-Denis also resulted in eight arrests. Abaaoud, reported to be 27 years old, traveled to Syria from Belgium and became an adherent of Islamic State, the ultra-fundamentalist al-Qaida breakaway faction that controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The group has claimed responsibility for last Friday’s deadly attack in Paris. French President Francois Hollande has also accused the group of being behind the attacks and declared that France is “at war“ with Islamic State. By his own account in an Islamic State propaganda publication, Abaaoud became an external operative, specializing in organizing attacks on his native Europe. He has been linked to several previous plots in Belgium and France. But the Paris operation was by far the deadliest and most sensational. Abaaoud’s apparent ability to travel between Syria and Europe without being detected - even though he has been on the law enforcement radar screen for years - has highlighted grave European security lapses. Officials fear terrorists may have infiltrated the legions of Syrian refugees streaming into Europe. Hundreds of Europeans have traveled to Syria and joined Islamic State and other radical groups. Their European passports and knowledge of Western society can provide cover for terrorist activities, experts say. French authorities suspect that Friday’s attack in Paris was largely organized in Syria and Belgium, the latter being Abaaoud’s home turf. In Belgium, Abaaoud apparently had access to a team of loyal, extremist foot soldiers from backgrounds similar to his own. At least eight assailants armed with weapons and suicide vests struck Paris on the evening of Nov. 13, attacking a national stadium, a rock concert and several restaurants and bars. The death toll of 129 could rise, authorities say, as many of the more than 300 injured remained in serious condition. Police have said one and possibly two attackers may still be at large. Seven attackers were killed, most by suicide bombs. Abaaoud was one of six children born to a Moroccan shopkeeper in the Brussels borough of Molenbeek St. Jean, which has a large Moroccan immigrant community. The sprawling district across an industrial canal from the capital’s hip downtown has become notorious as an incubator of Islamist radicals who traveled to Syria and joined extremist groups. He came from a working-class family but lived relatively well, at one point attending a prestigious private school, according to media accounts in Belgium. But Abaaoud turned to petty crime, spent time in jail in Belgium and fell under the influence of extremist Islam. Abaaoud went to Syria and became an online recruiter of European jihadists before evolving into a clandestine operative, planning attacks in Europe. He also recruited a teenage brother to go to Syria. Their father, in Belgium, has publicly denounced Abaaoud’s activities. On at least one occasion he was reported killed in Syria, possibly as a ruse to help him enter Europe. His image became infamous in Europe last year when a video surfaced on the Internet showing a laughing Abaaoud wearing a floppy hat and driving a pickup truck towing a group of tethered corpses through a field in northern Syria, apparently en route to a mass grave. “Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco,“ Abaaoud says, mugging for the camera as he piloted the Dodge pickup through a field. “Now, thank God, following God’s path, we’re towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us.“ —- ©2015 Los Angeles Times Visit the Los Angeles Times at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. ————— Topics: t000402642,t000040457,t000003763,g000362669

AP-WF-11-19-15 1516GMT