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Hunt for Key Suspect in Paris Attacks Intensifies

  • Lisa Bryant

This combination of photos shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, on the left, and suspect Salah Abdeslam, who remains at large.

This combination of photos shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, on the left, and suspect Salah Abdeslam, who remains at large.

European justice and interior ministers are holding crisis talks in Brussels Friday to discuss ways to coordinate and tighten security checks at the member states' external borders as an emergency measure following the Paris attacks.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France was not notified by any European Union state that the now dead ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had entered the bloc. Cazeneuve said it is "urgent that Europe wakes up, organizes itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat."

The Paris prosecutor said police found another body overnight in an apartment raided by police who were searching for suspects in the attacks. The prosecutor's office said the body was that of a woman, but her identity was not immediately clear.

Meanwhile, the manhunt continues for at least one suspected terrorist on the run since the deadly attacks last week in Paris.

French officials admit they do not know where Salah Abdelslam is, but the search for him intensified across France and Belgium Thursday, and also spread to the Netherlands, according to press reports.

WATCH: Related video report from VOA's Daniel Schearf in Paris

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Abdelslam, who is believed to have helped carry out the Paris attacks, became Europe’s most wanted fugitive after an international arrest warrant was issued for him.

Belgian raids

Belgian authorities conducted nine raids Thursday in several parts of Brussels and detained nine people. Some of the homes searched were in the neighborhood of Molenbeck where Abdelslam lived, as well as his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up outside one of the cafes targeted in the attacks.

Some of the raids were connected to Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the French stadium that was attacked. Officials said the operation focused on Hadfi's family, friends and others linked to him.

French police say 600 homes have been searched since last Friday’s attacks that killed at least 129 people.

Ringleader’s death confirmed

France confirmed that the mastermind of the attacks, Abaaoud, was killed in a police raid Wednesday. Officials said he has been implicated in four of six foiled attacks in the country this year.

A French security official said Friday a surveillance camera at the Croix de Chavaux metro station caught Abaaoud's image around the time of the shootings and bombings.

French police conduct a control at the French-German border in Strasbourg, France, to check vehicles and verify the identity of travelers as security increases after last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, Nov. 20, 2015.

French police conduct a control at the French-German border in Strasbourg, France, to check vehicles and verify the identity of travelers as security increases after last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, Nov. 20, 2015.

The Paris prosecutor's office said Abaaoud’s bullet-riddled body was found in an apartment targeted in the seven-hour police raid in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The Belgian national of Moroccan descent was identified from fingerprints.

Abaaoud, who was 27 or 28 years old, had been linked to an April attack on a church in Villejuif in which one person was killed, and to an August attack on a high-speed train that was thwarted by three young Americans.

Interior Minister Cazeneuve said France only found out after last week's attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe. He said the tip came from "an intelligence service outside Europe."

French police launched the raid early Wednesday after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and witness accounts that suggested Abaaoud was in the apartment in Saint-Denis.

'He’s not my boyfriend'

The woman who detonated a suicide vest in the raid has been identified.

An Alpini Regiment of the Italian Army checks visitors outside the Milan's cathedral, northern Italy, Nov. 20, 2015. Italy and Sweden increased security around public buildings after receiving reports that attacks might be planned on their soil.

An Alpini Regiment of the Italian Army checks visitors outside the Milan's cathedral, northern Italy, Nov. 20, 2015. Italy and Sweden increased security around public buildings after receiving reports that attacks might be planned on their soil.

Her name was Hasna Aitboulahcen. It has been reported that she was not particularly religious and was said to be outgoing. She was Abaaoud’s cousin.

Aitboulahcen blew herself up after a brief exchange with police Wednesday morning. “Where is your boyfriend?” officers asked her at the door of the apartment.

She retorted angrily, “He’s not my boyfriend,” and triggered her vest, becoming the first female suicide bomber to strike Western Europe.

Rising threats

Italian authorities are searching for five terror suspects after receiving a tip from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation that attacks on St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Milan’s Duomo or the La Scala Opera House were possible.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to Italy, saying those landmarks were potential targets as were “churches, synagogues, restaurants, theaters and hotels” in Rome and Milan.

French soldiers patrol near the Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) in Marseille, France, as security increases after last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, Nov. 20, 2015.

French soldiers patrol near the Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) in Marseille, France, as security increases after last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, Nov. 20, 2015.

The American cities of New York and Washington have been named in videos as potential Islamic State militant targets.

FBI Director James Comey said Thursday the investigative agency has seen no credible threat to the United States of Paris-style attacks.

'Foreign fighter interests'

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who briefed reporters with Comey in Washington, said that since 2013 more than 70 people have been charged for actions related to “foreign fighter interests and homegrown violent extremism.” She said the Department of Justice continues to take “robust actions.”

Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union's police coordination agency, highlighted the scale of the Paris attacks Thursday, saying they mark "a very serious escalation" of terrorism in Europe and are a "clear statement" of the Islamic State group's intention to bring its brutal brand of terror to the continent.

"It is reasonable to assume ... that further attacks are likely," Wainwright told a hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels Thursday.

Planes were again flying over Syrian skies conducting airstrikes late Thursday.

VOA's Mia Bush and Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.

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