SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE — The clamor began about 4:30 in the morning. Ousmane Minteh, a 24-year-old student who lives with his mother in this suburb north of Paris, thought the sounds that resembled gunfire in the middle of the night were a joke.
Louna Colleuille, who was sleeping four floors above what would become a crime scene, thought it was a dream.
Sladana Vuckovic, in her small apartment overlooking Rue du Corbillon, thought it was an attack — but from where she could not tell.
“I didn’t understand if it was happening down below or if we were being bombed from above,” Vuckovic, 44, said.
At an apartment in the middle of this neighborhood, more than 100 police and elite special forces fired over 5,000 rounds in a dramatic assault that killed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of Friday’s attacks, two senior European officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Neighborhood residents were awakened by the noise of gunfire, then helicopters overhead, then an explosion that could be heard blocks away. Two suspects died, French officials said, including a woman who detonated a suicide vest. French media reported her name was Hasna Aitboulahcen, Abaaoud’s 26-year-old cousin.
Five police officers suffered minor injuries, and a police dog named Diesel died in the shootout.
An ethnically diverse suburb of Paris, Saint-Denis is famous for being the burial site of most of France’s monarchs. It is also less than two miles from the Stade de France, one of the six locations targeted Friday.
Tena Rabia, a 63-year-old shopkeeper, said she ran out onto the street when she heard the gunfire about 4:30 a.m. “There was blood all over the place, people were injured,” Rabia said. “It seemed like real war.”
She described the building that was raided by police as a place frequented by drug dealers and squatters, where “anybody can go.”
The landlord of the apartment, Jawad Bendaoud, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that he gave permission for two people from Belgium to stay in his place “for a few days” as a favor to a friend. He was among those arrested Wednesday.
“I said that there was no mattress, they told me, ‘It’s not a problem,’ they just wanted water and to pray,” Bendaoud told the news agency moments before he was handcuffed.
The violence lasted about three hours. For several more hours afterward, the streets throughout the center of Saint-Denis remained empty except for heavily armed law enforcement officers. Residents were told to stay inside, and police barred pedestrians and cars from entering an area, cordoned off with police tape, covering several blocks in every direction around the apartment.
For much of the morning, faces peered from open windows above the empty streets. School was canceled for children throughout Saint-Denis, and some of them would not have been able to reach class anyway — up the block from the raided apartment on Rue du Corbillon is a kindergarten.
By about 1 p.m., police opened most of the neighborhood to traffic. But the street outside the apartment remained blockaded, while dozens of forensics investigators in full-body suits and blue booties picked through the debris. The street in front of the home was covered in shattered glass. Bloody carnage resembling part of the police dog killed by the suspects in the raid lay in the street.
Around the corner, Jahir Gerguri and his daughters came out of their apartment for the first time, after watching and listening to the raid through their windows. The family moved here two years ago from Kosovo. “It is just like in Serbia and Kosovo,” Gerguri said, looking at an image he had on his phone of the street below his home, packed with soldiers and police officers. His 10-year-old daughter, Euresa, translated French for him. “We left Kosovo to find a better life,” she said.
Asked whether the family thought they had found it here, in Saint-Denis, both father and daughter said no.
Other neighbors awakened by the violence in the middle of the night said they knew immediately that whatever was happening outside their windows was connected to the attacks Friday that killed 129. “It couldn’t have been anything else,” Vuckovic said. “This is what’s happening now.”
Ben Redoute, 46, a landscape artist, had ignored police pleas to stay inside and went out onto the streets at 4.30 a.m., where he noticed police had constructed a makeshift barrier with trash cans.
“When I was a kid, I used to watch American gangster movies,” Redoute said. “Now this place is the same.” He said he was not surprised that terrorists might attempt to hide out in the area, home to many nationalities. “It’s easy to hide,” he said. “I’m not surprised they would choose such a site to hide.”
Virgile Demoustier contributed to this report.