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Hollande Reiterates France Is At War; Raid Jolts Saint-Denis Awake


In Paris, has been a chaotic morning here, surreal in many ways. We are sitting in our makeshift studios here overlooking a boulevard in the central part of Paris, where life seems pretty normal. Not so just north of this city in a suburb called Saint-Denis, where there was a police raid early this morning. The police were searching for the man they believe planned the attack in Paris that killed 129 people last Friday. Now, President Francois Hollande addressed the country, and let's listen to what he had to say through an interpreter.


PRES FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) These acts show once again that we are at war. We are at war against terrorism, terrorism which declared war on us. It is the Daesh jihadist organization. It has an army.

GREENE: All right, that is the president of France, speaking about what he says is a war against terrorists. He also said that the aim of the operation - a police operation this morning - was to neutralize terrorists who were set up in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. I'm joined in our studio here in Paris by NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. And Dina, an operation to neutralize terrorists. What exactly does that mean? It sounds as though they were not just going after people to hold them accountable for the attacks here but people who potentially were going to carry out more attacks.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, there were two things that they were going after. The first was whether or not they had had information that the man who had conceived of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was actually in the apartment. It's unclear whether that was true. They were also very worried about the possibility of their being follow-on attacks. There is some information coming out that the people who were in this apartment were part of a second terror team. There were two apartments in Saint-Denis that they raided, and the idea was to try and stop a follow-on attack.

GREENE: Do we know if police were able to stop the potential for a follow-on attack? I mean, what did they accomplish this morning?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's very unclear. The numbers are very fluid about the number of people that they arrested, although they did take in some people alive, which helps them try to get some information about what else might be in the offing. Remember, the Friday attacks were comprised of three different terror teams. So it is not beyond intelligence that there might be other people out there. That's what they're trying to stop.

GREENE: It sounds like an incredibly frightening scene in this neighborhood. And one thing we heard from both you and from our colleague Eleanor Beardsley, who has been on the ground in Saint-Denis, is that there was the possibility that there were actually explosive devices around the neighborhood, which, if we piece this together, might explain why the police were telling people to stay indoors. But why would there be explosive devices around this apartment?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the concern was that, in fact, the apartment - remember there were two different buildings, two different apartments. The concern was that those apartments were booby-trapped so that if police did try and raid the apartments, they would be killed. So it's really unclear whether or not they are still checking the area for booby traps. But that's a very common thing when you go into these sorts of terrorist organizations.

GREENE: Just remind us - I mean, the man they are going after, who is believed to be responsible here, he has alluded the authorities in the past. Again, not clear his status this morning, even if he was in Paris. But he has been someone who the authorities have been chasing for some time.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. His name again is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and he has been a most-wanted man by the French for some time. He's thought to have been behind a number of terrorist attacks that were both successful and aborted here in France, so he would be a big get.

GREENE: All right, we're speaking with NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston here in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.