By Emmanuel Jarry and Antony Paone
A female suicide bomber blew herself up in a police raid that sources said had foiled a jihadi plan to hit Paris's business district, days after attacks that killed 129 across the French capital.
Police stormed an apartment in the Paris suburb of St. Denis in a hunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamist militant accused of masterminding the bombings and shootings, but more than 15 hours later it was still unclear if they had found him.
Heavily armed officers entered the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions. Eight people were arrested and forensic scientists are working to confirm if two or three militants died in the violence.
"A new team of terrorists has been neutralised," Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters, saying police had fired 5000 rounds of munitions into the apartment, which was left shredded by the assault, its windows blown out and the facade riddled with bullet impacts.
"This commando could have become operational," Molins said.
A source close to the investigation said the dead woman might have been Abaaoud's cousin, while the Washington Post quoted senior intelligence officials as saying Abaaoud himself had died in the shootout.
Molins said none of the bodies had been identified, adding only that Abaaoud was not among those detained.
Police were led to the apartment following a tip off that the 28-year-old Belgian, previously thought to have orchestrated the November 13 attacks from Syria, was actually in France.
Investigators believe the attacks - the worst atrocity in France since World War Two - were set in motion in Syria, with Islamist cells in neighbouring Belgium organising the mayhem.
Local residents spoke of their fear and panic as the shooting started in St. Denis just before 4:30am (local time).
"We could see bullets flying and laser beams out of the window. There were explosions. You could feel the whole building shake," said Sabrine, who lives downstairs from the apartment that was raided.
She told Europe 1 radio that she heard the people above her talking to each other, running around and reloading their guns.
Five police officers and a passerby were injured in the assault. A police dog was also killed.
Islamic State, which controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, saying they were in retaliation for French air raids against their positions over the past year.
French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday - four Frenchmen and a man who was fingerprinted in Greece last month after arriving in the country via Turkey with a boatload of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
Police believe two men directly involved in the assault subsequently escaped, including Salah Abdeslam, 26, a Belgian-based Frenchman who is accused of having played a central role in both planning and executing the deadly mission.
French authorities say they have identified all the November 13 victims. They came from 17 different countries, many of them young people out enjoying themselves.
Empowered by a state of emergency introduced in France last Friday, police have made hundreds of sweeps across the country over the past three days, arresting 60 suspects, putting 118 under house arrest and seizing 75 weapons.
Two police sources and a source close to the investigation told Reuters that the St. Denis cell was planning a fresh attack. "This new team was planning an attack on La Defense," one source said, referring to a high-rise neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris that is home to top banks and businesses.