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World

At Least 2 Dead, 8 Arrested After French Police Raid In St. Denis

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, French police raided two apartments in an operation they say stopped a terrorist cell. Eight people are in custody, and at least two are dead. It's still not clear if the man believe to have orchestrated Friday's attacks is one of those killed. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was at the scene this morning, and she sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The sound of gunfire and stun grenades blasted through the center city streets of Saint-Denis at 4:20 a.m. this morning as elite SWAT units began an assault on two apartments thought to be harboring the planners of Friday's deadly attacks in Paris. Police got into one apartment, immediately dragging three people out from their beds. A suicide bomber blew herself up at 6 a.m. The standoff with the other apartment lasted seven hours. Speaking live on television tonight, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told the country police had faced violence not seen before.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Through interpreter) Because of the bulletproof door, the terrorists had time to prepare their response. Grenades were used. Police fired 5,000 bullets, and the ceiling of one of the apartments collapsed.

BEARDSLEY: Molins said since Friday, French investigators have uncovered an intricately prepared plot that included cell phones, cars and safe houses in Belgium and France. He said eight people were arrested, but the bodies of those killed during the assault were so damaged, it might take days to identify them. He said the two men they were searching for were not among the survivors.

After being in lockdown all day, stunned residents began to come out. Abdelhakim Benkaddour says his neighborhood had sounded like a war zone.

ABDELHAKIM BENKADDOUR: I have heard all the sound - a lot of explosions and weapons, a lot of weapons. During more than one hour, we were very, very afraid.

BEARDSLEY: Didier Pavaillard is the mayor of Saint-Denis. He said today's events are another wound for his small city coming on the heels of Friday's attack on the nation stadium also in Saint-Denis.

DIDIER PAVAILLARD: We are a small city, a melting-pot city with more than a hundred nationalities. We all put our kids in the same school and usually build things together.

BEARDSLEY: Thirty-nine-year-old Denise Blanc says she's afraid of more attacks, but she's also defiant.

DENISE BLANC: They want to fight everyone. They want to split us. We just have to stay together to show them that this despite all their effort to make terror, we will stay together and strong.

BEARDSLEY: Saint-Denis has a large Muslim population, and it's often been named as one of the troubled suburbs of Paris. But Abdelhakim Benkaddour says he does not fear a backlash against Muslims.

BENKADDOUR: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "There will always be a minority who will want to blame Muslims," he says, "but in these latest attacks on our country, the French people will understand the difference." Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Saint-Denis, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.