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Fate Of Attack Leader Is Still Unknown After Raid In Saint-Denis

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Paris. The day certainly began here more peacefully than yesterday, when a police raid had explosions going off and people hiding in their homes in a Paris suburb. There's still a lot of uneasiness today, though. The target of that raid yesterday in Saint-Denis was the man authorities believe planned the attacks in Paris last Friday. But he was not arrested, and he does not appear to be one of the two people killed in that operation. Meanwhile, authorities today have launched raids in the Brussels region linked to the Paris suicide bomber. One sign of a Paris on edge, yesterday Eurostar, which operates the Chunnel train between Paris and London, suspended check-ins at the Paris train station Gare du Nord. It was investigating a security threat, the company said.

Yesterday evening, we paid a visit to the Gare du Nord station. Outside, police were swarming everywhere in these clusters of navy uniforms. Inside the majestic stone building, the colors of the French flag were projected on one wall in a patriotic gesture. Commuters clustered around train announcement boards, including Anthony Aubrey. He was holding a boxed salad in one hand and his phone in the other.

ANTHONY AUBREY: Nice to meet you, David.

GREENE: I work for NPR.

AUBREY: I'm Anthony.

GREENE: Anthony comes to Gare du Nord all the time, he told me, because he has to travel around Europe for meetings every week. The day's security threat didn't really seem to faze him.

AUBREY: I'm not scared. I'm not afraid. And if we stop living our lives, then they will win. So what else can we do? Yeah, maybe one day I will die in a bombing. But what do you want me to do, to escape and go to South America because there are no bombings in South America? I mean, I live in Paris. I'm a Parisian. I love this city. And I'll keep doing the same and enjoy life. And that's it.

GREENE: All right, that is a commuter at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. I'm here in our studios overlooking Rue Saint-Lazare in central Paris with NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston, who's been following this story very closely. And, Dina, that man there I spoke to, he said he is living his life. He's not going to live afraid. Does he have a reason to be afraid right now in this city?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, if you just listen to what the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, said through an interpreter here last night, you can understand why Paris might be on edge.

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FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Through interpreter) Investigations are ongoing to identify the terrorists who have been killed, those who have been apprehended and also all those who may potentially have been involved in one way or another in this terrorist campaign in France or in Syria.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And there's a lack of information. And that lack of information, as you say, has Paris on edge a little bit. You know, as you know and as you mention, the police raided this series of apartments in the town of Saint-Denis just north of here at dawn yesterday morning. But it's still completely unclear whether the people killed in the apartment were the suspects that authorities had been hunting for days.

GREENE: OK, and one of those suspects they were hunting, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national who's suspected of organizing last week's security attacks - they have no idea where he is, if he's still alive. So it sounds like there are reasons to be concerned. I mean, there could actually be something else being planned out there. This terror cell that the Paris authorities were targeting - some of these people might still be out there.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And he's not the only one. They've been hunting a French national named Saleh Abdelsalam for days. And the prosecutor said he doesn't seem to have been captured or killed either. He isn't among the eight people that they arrested yesterday. And they don't know if he's among the dead in the apartment. Now, we heard from our sources - the only thing we do know is that this woman they think was in the apartment was either a niece or a cousin of Abaaoud's. And she worked nearby. But all this sketchy information really makes it difficult for Parisians to just even take a breath. They don't know if the threat that's hung over the city for days is over. And because Abaaoud wasn't taken alive and he's boasted publicly about being able to elude police, it all makes this a bit unsettling.

GREENE: Boasted publicly that he's been able to elude police. I mean, that's kind of stunning. I mean, why is it so hard for French authorities and others to track, you know, to track him and track some of these other people?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think what the difficulty is is that they're melting into various neighborhoods in Paris. And there are a lot of people that they've been trying to keep an eye on. You have to remember that when it comes to Abaaoud, Abaaoud thought was actually in Syria. Allegedly, he had actually come to Europe - or at least gotten to Greece - in January of this year. And they picked up a cell phone communication from him and were trying to track him. And then they lost him. And they're doing the same now. They're trying to find out if there are any sort of communications that they might be able to pick up to try to find these people.

GREENE: Dina, this morning, the French prime minister went to Parliament and asked Parliament to extend a state of emergency with - which, you know, he is hoping will help with the investigation. We're hearing that under this state of emergency, I mean, French authorities have made dozens of arrests. They have people under house arrest all across the country. What exactly is going on? I mean, could these sort of things help them find this one terror cell? Or has France sort of begun a widespread campaign to wipe out any sort of evidence of terrorism they can find in the country?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think they're running, trying to figure out who's dangerous and who isn't. But I think one of the key aspects here is, you know, the way they've led - they were led to this - these apartments in Saint-Denis is they happened to find a cell phone that had been thrown out in a trashcan near the stadium where there was attack on Friday. And they picked up the cell phone, and the cell phone actually said, on commence - we're starting, which they thought might be a text from one of the attackers. They triangulated that, and that is how they ended up going to the apartment in Saint-Denis. They also had some witnesses who said that they saw someone who looked like Abaaoud in that neighborhood. So that's what they're counting on. They're counting on those kinds of intercepts and witnesses to see something and, as they say in New York, say something.

GREENE: Can we just step back a little bit? You and I have been talking since you arrived in town and have been covering this so closely about ISIS. I mean, we had the downing of a Russian aircraft, which the Russian government has now acknowledged was a bombing. We had those twin bombings in Beirut. We now have this attack in Paris. I mean, how do you sort of characterize what you see ISIS doing right now? Is it a shift in strategy?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I'm not sure it's a shift as opposed to a progression. One of the things that you often see with a terrorist group is that they start with small, regional issues, and then they get to broader issues. And then they sort of project outward. This is why counterterrorism officials in the United States are always saying that they're worried about regional groups. They may not be focused on the West now. But as they grow and gather strength, they can focus on the West later. So I think that is what's going on here. It's a progression for ISIS. I mean, there are two schools of thought. One school is that because ISIS is losing territory in Syria, that it needs to change the subject. It needs to have people focus on something else to show that it's still winning so it can continue to get recruits. The other possibility is that this is just the natural evolution of a terrorist organization. And ISIS, with all the money it has, has finally come to that point.

GREENE: We have that video - I know not verified yet - but that video, purportedly from ISIS, suggesting that the United States could be targeted soon. We have what happened here in Paris. We have the Russian aircraft. President Hollande here in Paris has talked about a real sort of relationship between Russia, the United States, France and combating ISIS. I mean, in terms of a counterterrorism strategy, do those three countries work together well? Is that really something cohesive that could come together?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I've always been told, even when I was here for the Charlie Hebdo attacks, after those happened, that the French are very pragmatic in the way that they work with the U.S. intelligence agencies. And similarly, the U.K. works very closely with the United States. But remember, the U.S. doesn't have permission to actually run investigations here. They are subservient to what the French want them to do. So there's cooperation, but I think the French have felt that they have lots of fires to put out. They're very focused on trying to abort a second attack. And they're worried another one, a follow-on attack, will happen. So that's where their main focus is.

GREENE: All right, NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston with me in Paris. Dina, thanks a lot.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

GREENE: Now, this tension here in Paris not restricted to France. It can be felt all across Europe. In Germany, the government is ramping up police presence and other security measures to try and foil similar attacks in Germany. But many Germans are annoyed by the government's refusal to shed light on the terror threats that they might know about. Here's my colleague, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Berlin.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking German).

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A talk show on ARD TV opened last night with what's on many Germans minds. How will these days of terror change our lives? Will there be more police, more military, more vulnerability? German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere says no.

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INTERIOR MINISTER THOMAS DE MAIZIERE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Following Tuesday night's bomb scare and resulting evacuations in Hanover, he told reporters that no German - himself included - is prepared to give in to terrorists by staying away from public gatherings. But he refused to say who the would-be attackers were that night or the reason why it was necessary for security forces to swoop down on Hanover and paralyzed the city the way they did.

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DE MAIZIERE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: De Maiziere said some of the answers would unsettle the public. He urged Germans to simply trust the authorities. Those statements did not go over well in a country that now demands government transparency given its Nazi and communist past. Opposition parties scolded de Maiziere, and one demanded a parliamentary inquiry. And the press and public lampooned the interior minister. On twitter, #DoItLikeDeMaziere was flooded with memes, including one of him asking Chancellor Angela Merkel, what do you actually think of me? To which she replies, part of the answer would only unsettle you. At a Berlin market, Zabino Wuer (ph) was also critical.

ZABINO WUER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The 55-year-old recalled officials being just as opaque earlier this year, when they canceled a carnival parade held before Lent in her city of Braunschweig because of a terror threat.

WUER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Wuer asks, "did they find something? Was there an arrest?" She adds, "everything was covered up, and that's not good." Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.