PARIS Suspected Islamist militants flushed out of a Paris suburb by police in a shootout on Wednesday were planning to attack the French capital's La Defense business district, three sources told Reuters.
A source close to the investigation source said the attack was being prepared for Thursday in the district that is home to some of France's biggest companies such as the oil major Total (TOTF.PA) and the main trading room of Societe Generale SOGE.PA bank.
Several police sources said the targets were the Quatre Temps shopping center and the main square of the district of high-rise office buildings on the western edge of Paris.
"The police forces were looking for terrorists who were preparing another attack on the basis of information from the (local) counter-terrorism services and overseas," said the source close to the investigation.
"This new team was planning an attack on La Defense," the source said.
A woman suicide bomber blew herself up and another militant died when police raided the apartment in the St. Denis suburb as part of the investigation into last week's coordinated bombings and shootings.
Officials said police had been hunting Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamist militant of Moroccan origin accused of ordering the Nov. 13 attack. More than eight hours after the launch of the pre-dawn raid it was still unclear if they had found him, but they had found something else.
"They were expecting to find Abdelhamid Abaaoud but they came across another thing - a team that was preparing to attack La Defense."
The French interior ministry declined to confirm or deny the information, but later, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve appeared to hint at an extra attack plan.
"These operations were led against people who might have struck again, and once again we see that crimes, murders and barbarity have been avoided."
Seven people were arrested in the operation, including three people who were pulled from the apartment, officials said.
"It is impossible to tell you who was arrested. We are in the process of verifying that. Everything will be done to determine who is who," Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said at the end of the operation.
The police sources indicated that Paris had received a tip about the planned La Defense attack from Morocco's intelligence service and four of its officers were in the French capital to meet police here.
(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by John Irish and Andrew Callus; Editing by Tom Heneghan)