Gunfire erupts in St Denis area of Paris as police hunt fugitives
French special police forces secure the area as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, France, near Paris - REUTERS
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PARIS: Gunfire erupted in a north Paris suburb early on Wednesday as special police forces launched an operation to catch one of the suspects believed to be behind gun and bomb attacks in which 129 people were killed last week, a police source told Reuters.

Friday night’s attacks in the French capital, claimed by Islamic State militants, raised security concerns around the world, with an international soccer match called off in Germany and two Air France flights from the United States diverted.

In Syria, France and Russia bombed targets to punish Islamic State for the coordinated Paris massacre and the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31.

French TV stations BFMTV and iTele both showed amateur video of Wednesday’s early morning shooting and cited witnesses in the area saying they had heard sporadic gunfire since around 4:30 a.m. (0330 GMT).

BFMTV said some police had been wounded during the operation, which took place near the Stade de France sports stadium, where three suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts and killed a passer-by on Friday.

French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday – four Frenchmen and a fifth man who was fingerprinted in Greece among refugees last month.

But they now believe two men directly involved in the assault subsequently escaped.

Islamic State said it carried out the attacks in retaliation for French and Russian air raids in Iraq and Syria. Investigators said the Paris plot was hatched in Syria and nurtured in Belgium.

SECURITY ALERTS

Late on Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said two Paris-bound Air France flights were diverted following anonymous bomb threats, and hundreds of passengers and crew were safely removed.

Flight 65, an Airbus A-380 that departed from Los Angeles landed safely in Salt Lake City, where passengers and crew were escorted into the terminal, an FAA spokesman said.

A separate flight that left Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., Flight 55, was diverted to Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia, Canada, where passengers and crew had also disembarked. The Halifax Airport tweeted that 262 passengers and crew members had been aboard.

In a brief statement, Air France said both flights had been the “subjects of anonymous threats received after their respective take-offs”.

Earlier, bomb fears had prompted German police to call off a soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hanover two hours before kick-off. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been due to attend.

No arrests were made and no explosives were found.

“We had received specific indications that an attack with explosives was planned,” Hanover Police President Volker Kluwe told NDR state broadcaster. “We took them seriously, and that is why we took the measures.”

France and Germany were playing a soccer friendly at the Stade de France when Friday’s attacks took place.

AIR STRIKES IN SYRIA

Syrian targets hit by Russian long-range bombers and cruise missiles on Tuesday included the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. French warplanes also targeted Raqqa on Tuesday evening in the third such bombing raid within 48 hours.

Paris and Moscow are not coordinating their operations, but French President Francois Hollande has called for a global campaign against the radicals in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible and intensify air strikes against Islamists in Syria.

The Kremlin said Putin spoke to Hollande by telephone and had ordered the Russian navy to establish contact with a French naval force heading to the eastern Mediterranean, led by an aircraft carrier, and to treat them as allies.

“Maybe today this grand coalition with Russia is possible,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told TF1 television channel on Tuesday evening.

Hollande will visit Putin in Moscow on Nov. 26, two days after the French leader is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington to push for a concerted drive against Islamic State, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Obama said in Manila on Wednesday he wanted Moscow to shift its focus from propping up Syria’s government to fighting Islamic State and would discuss that with Putin.

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