Paris returns to cafes as hunt for terror suspects continues

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Gunfire and explosions shook the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis early Wednesday as heavily armed police stormed a building where suspects linked to Friday's deadly terrorist attacks were believed to be holed up. Police blocked off roads before dawn Wednesday and told residents to stay inside in Saint-Denis, a diverse, working-class area that is home to the Stade de France sports arena where three suicide bombings took place Friday. The situation developed quickly over many hours, but by late morning in Paris, the French government said the siege was over. (Photo: CNN)

PARIS  — A week after terrorist attacks shattered a French Friday evening, Parisians grasped for the things they love — cafes and bistros.

The search for normalcy in a city shaken to its core persisted even as suspects remained on the run and investigators desperately fought to keep terrorists from striking again.

Back to the bar

The cafes and bistros of Paris are the French capital’s living room.

At the coaxing of President Francois Hollande and restaurateurs, Parisians have rallied behind the hastag #TousAuBistrot, basically “everyone to the bistro” or “back to the bar.”

“What would our country be without its cafes, concerts, sport events, museums?” Hollande asked this week.

Even as they try to get back to normal, Parisians are keeping a wary eye on the latest developments.

Ringleader dead

They did so knowing French authorities had identified the body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He was killed during a dramatic raid that shook the Saint-Denis neighborhood and collapsed an entire floor of an apartment building. But investigators say their work is far from finished.

A series of raids in Belgium and the search of a home on the outskirts of Paris Thursday were the latest signs of investigators’ efforts to piece together — and take down — the network of terrorists behind the attacks before they can strike again.

The Paris prosecutor has also identified a woman who blew herself up during the raid: 26-year-old Hasna Ait Boulahcen, a relative of Abaaoud.

Investigators haven’t revealed much about the suicide bomber. Friends of her family in their hometown of Aulnay-sous-Bois, on the northeastern outskirts of Paris, said she had lived there until recently. Residents in the area told CNN authorities had taken her mother and brother into custody. And the Paris prosecutor’s office told CNN that police were searching the mother’s home.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Abaaoud “played a decisive role” in the Paris attacks and played a part in four of six terror attacks foiled since spring, with one alleged jihadist claiming Abaaoud had trained him personally.

Nathalie Gallant, the attorney for Abaaoud’s father, told CNN that her client feels guilty about her son’s radicalization and is “relieved” that his son is dead.

She said the father thinks his son was a “psychopath” and “became the devil.”

Searching for suspects

Authorities have said they believe at least two suspects in the Paris attacks could be on the run.

Salah Abdeslam, 26, is the subject of an international search warrant. He was last seen driving toward the Belgian border when police stopped and questioned him a few hours after the attacks, not knowing that he was involved. Now, his whereabouts are unknown.

Wherever he is, Gallant, who also represents Abdeslam’s brother Mohamed, said the family hasn’t heard from him and is hoping Abaaoud’s death will persuade him to surrender.

“He’s waiting to know if Salah is dead or still on the run,” she said.

Belgium, where Abdeslam and Abaaoud both lived and spent time together in prison, has also become a key focal point of the investigation.

With pockets of the country seen as fertile ground for jihadist recruiters, it’s where members of a suspected terror cell waged a deadly gun battle in January with police and also where three Americans in August overpowered a radical Islamist gunman on a Paris-bound train.

Investigators there detained nine people in raids across the country Thursday, and later released seven of them. Some of them, authorities said, were tied to Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers who died in last week’s Paris attacks.

France wants wider anti-ISIS coalition

French authorities are using a state of emergency declared by President Francois Hollande to carry out a widespread clampdown on potential terrorist threats, detaining dozens of people, putting more than 100 others under house arrest and seizing an alarming array of weapons.

At the President’s request, France’s lower house voted Thursday to extend the state of emergency for three more months. The bill now goes to the French upper house, or Senate, for an expected vote Friday.

Hollande said he would appeal to world leaders to form a wider coalition to go after ISIS, including meeting next week with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has taken military action in Syria independently of the U.S.-led coalition, attacking ISIS but also other groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Moscow.

And France’s interior minister, Cazeneuve, will press the case for more concerted European action, during an upcoming European Union justice council meeting in Brussels.

Talking to French lawmakers Thursday about extending the state of emergency, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that not taking steps to combat ISIS could have dire consequences. For proof, he pointed to their history of executions, bombings, beheadings and added that the use of chemical and biological weapons can’t be ruled out.

“The way they are killing is constantly evolving,” Valls said. “The grim imagination of those giving the orders has no limit.”

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