Paris shootout: 2 dead, incl. female suicide bomber, 7 arrested as police, army hunt suspects

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. © Christian Hartmann
The French police and army swooped on a Paris suburb early Wednesday amid heavy gunfire and explosions in the hunt for those behind last Friday’s attacks. At least two extremists, including a female suicide bomber, have been killed. Seven people were arrested during the raid.

Residents of the suburb of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, were awakened by an exchange of gunfire at around 4:30 a.m. (0330 GMT) local time.

"I was awakened by explosions that lasted about 15-20 minutes,” one resident told Le Monde. “From our window, we could see lights [that looked] like gunfire... Then helicopters landed on the roofs."

At least 15 people, including women and children, have been evacuated from the building in the area of anti-terrorist operation, the mayor office of Saint-Denis told Le Figaro.

According to police spokesman Jean-Alphonse Richard, officers identified an apartment being used as a base by the alleged terrorists in Saint-Denis in the hunt for a key suspect in last Friday’s murderous Paris attacks and his accomplices.

French soldiers secure the area as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. © Jacky Naegelen

The primary target of the raid was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged sponsor and mastermind of Friday’s massacre in Paris, police said. Salah Abdeslam, another suspect in the attacks, was also reportedly targeted in the raid.

“There were grenades. It was going, stopping. Kalashnikovs. Starting again,'' Saint-Denis resident Amin Guizani told AP.

The terror suspects reportedly barricaded themselves in an apartment.

Later at least 50 soldiers were deployed at the scene of the police operation in Saint-Denis, according to RTL.

"There are men from RAID [Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence unit] shooting from the rooftops," Djihane, a neighbor, told France Inter radio, referring to France’s equivalent of SWAT squads. "We've been told to lie on the floor and not go to the windows."

At least five officers were injured during the anti-terrorist operation, the French National Police said on Twitter.

One of the suspects managed to escape, however, Richard said.

There have been conflicting reports about the number of terror suspects killed in the operation. France’s chief prosecutor has so far confirmed the death of one female suicide bomber. AFP cited police, saying that a second extremist was killed during the raid, while BFMTV reported three terrorists killed in the raid, citing another police source.

Seven people have been arrested by police, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said. 

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The prosecutor added that police arrested close associates of Omar Ismail Mostefai and Sami Amimour, two suicide bombers in the Paris attacks.

READ MORE: Mastermind behind Paris attacks identified as active ISIS executioner from Belgium – reports

Schools and colleges in the center of Saint-Denis will stay closed for the day, an official from the prefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis said.

Reports have emerged about multiple shots and explosions at the scene of the operation later on Wednesday.

The suspected militants which are being targeted by police in Saint-Denis earlier planned an attack on La Defense business district in Paris, a source close to the investigation told Reuters.

The operation was officially over by 1200 GMT, authorities confirmed, adding that Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve plans to visit the site of the raid.

The northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis, home of the Stade de France national stadium, has been under intense scrutiny since terrorists targeted the venue Friday.

French authorities have launched dozens of anti-terrorist raids across the country following the coordinated Paris terror attacks on Friday that killed at least 132 people and wounded hundreds more. The raids have resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of weapons caches.

Belgium also carried out an anti-terrorist operation Monday in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, which has been dubbed a European jihadist hotspot. Both Salah Abdeslam and Abdelhamid Abaaoud, key suspects in the Paris attacks, were based in the area.