By Greg Botelho, Margot Haddad, and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
CNN – The ringleader behind the Paris attacks is dead, killed during a dramatic raid that shook a neighborhood and collapsed an entire floor of an apartment building. But French authorities say their work is far from finished.
Six days after a coordinated string of shootings and bombings killed 129 people in the French capital, at least one suspect is still on the run. A series of raids in Belgium and a 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.
French officials said the raid Wednesday at an apartment building in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis was a significant step. On Thursday, they confirmed they’d identified the body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks, found in the rubble of the apartment.
Officials have 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.
Wednesday wasn’t the first time authorities had tried to take Abaaoud down. Western intelligence agencies reportedly tried to target Abaaoud in the months prior to the Paris attacks, without success.
A key question now: Are other top ISIS operatives who may have worked with Abaaoud on the Paris plot still on the loose?
Searching for suspects
Authorities have said at least two suspects in the Paris attacks are still on the run.
The search for one of them, Salah Abdeslam, has been extended to include the Netherlands, where Abdeslam had spent time in the past, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
Belgium 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. 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 coalition against ISIS
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.
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The Paris attacks and ISIS’ claim of bringing down a Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month have underscored the extremist group’s desire to expand the reach of its terror.
Already part of the U.S-led coalition that’s bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, France has stepped up its airstrikes on the militants in recent days, and Hollande said Thursday that he wanted the airstrikes to intensify.
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 — including bolstering borders — during an upcoming European Union justice council meeting in Brussels. Measures taken thus far, the minister said Thursday, haven’t been implemented fast enough or don’t go far enough.
Talking to French lawmakers Thursday about extending that country’s 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.”