DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France: Scores of heavily armed police stormed the suburban Paris hideout of two al-Qaida-linked suspects in the Charlie Hebdo magazine slayings and shot them dead as they attempted to escape in a hail of automatic weapon fire, French authorities reported on Friday (early Saturday in Manila).
The suspects, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, were killed in the late-afternoon police storming of a printing shop warehouse in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris.
A simultaneous police operation at a kosher grocery store in southeastern Paris killed a gunman identified as Amedy Coulibaly, who was reportedly an accomplice of the Kouachi brothers, US and French authorities said. Another person who may have been a gunman also was killed, a police source told The Times.
Coulibaly, 32, and a possible accomplice had seized at least five hostages at the market and threatened to kill them if police attacked the Kouachis as they were surrounded in the denouement of a three-day manhunt, the police source said.
Coulibaly’s girlfriend, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, apparently had driven the two men to the market about 1 p.m., the police source said. Boumeddiene remained at large Friday evening.
Three of the hostages at the market apparently were killed when the gunmen entered the shop, said the police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
“At the beginning of the hostage situation there were people who weren’t moving, so we suspected already that there were deaths,” he said. “When we evacuated the people, we found the dead.”
Three police officers were wounded in the operations, one in the airport operation and two at the market, he said.
Authorities said they remained on high alert for potential strikes by any other possible accomplices.
At the printing warehouse, a man who had been hiding inside during the standoff and providing information to police by cellphone escaped to safety during the operation, the police source said.
Police had cordoned off area roads and closed two runways of the busy international airport as helicopters hovered over the scene.
The brothers had told police negotiators they “want to die as martyrs,” said Yves Albarello, a member of parliament for Siene-et-Marne, the region where the brothers, wanted in the Wednesday attack on the magazine that killed a dozen people, took refuge early Friday as police moved in.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised the operations that brought an end to both tense standoffs.
“The joint operations were conducted with a cool professionalism which did honor to these services,” he told journalists. He cautioned, though, that “we remain totally vigilant, focused and attentive.”
President Francois Hollande also praised law enforcement as he addressed his shaken nation shortly after the hostage situations ended. He urged French citizens to be on guard for further extremist provocations.
“France is not finished with this threat, so I want to call on you for vigilance, unity and mobilization,” he said. “We will not give in to any pressure or fears. We are capable of defending peace and protecting ourselves from these threats.”
President Barack Obama hailed the French operations, saying US and French counter-terrorism officials had been in touch after the standoffs were quelled and were now “hopeful that the immediate threat is resolved.”
He praised the French people for defending the values of liberty and defying the terror suspects’ attempts to sow fear and division.
“That spirit will endure forever, long after the scourge of terrorism is banished from this world,” Obama said at the start of a speech in Knoxville, Tenn.
Coulibaly, the suspect at the grocery story, had been identified by police earlier on Friday as a suspect in the killing on Thursday of a police officer in the Montrouge area of Paris.
French media reported that the female officer’s shooting was linked with the massacre on Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. The attack left eight journalists, two police officers, a visitor and a maintenance man dead and sparked the manhunt for the Kouachi brothers that riveted the attention of millions worldwide.
BFM television reported that Coulibaly had telephoned the station at about 3 p.m., in the midst of the hostage situation at the kosher market, and claimed to be “synchronized” with the Kouachi brothers. Referring to the magazine attack and the police officer’s killing a day later, Coulibaly told the broadcaster it was “them (at) Charlie Hebdo, me (in) the police” shooting. He also told the station that he belonged to the extremist group Islamic State.
Fearing further attacks by what authorities have said may be a larger terror cell connected to the Kouachis, the Paris mayor’s office ordered shops in the bustling Jewish district of Le Marais closed just hours ahead of the Jewish Sabbath. Le Marais, a popular shopping area with tourists and Parisians, is in the heart of the city and several miles from the police operations at the northeast and southeast fringes of Paris.
A massive manhunt involving more than 80,000 law enforcement officers had been underway since midday Wednesday for the Kouachi brothers, identified by authorities as Al Qaeda-trained militants.
According to U.S. and French officials, Said Kouachi, 34, traveled to Yemen in 2011 and had contacts with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group’s affiliate in that country. Both Said and Cherif Kouachi, 32, were on the U.S. no-fly list.
U.S. officials in Washington briefed by French intelligence ahead of the police operations said Coulibaly had “close ties” to the Kouachi brothers and had demanded that the French police let the suspects leave the airport-area warehouse safely or he would kill his hostages at the grocery.
“I heard a shot ring out and then the police arrived immediately on the scene,” Eric Dadone-Vaillant, who lives in the neighborhood near the grocery store, said of the gunfire heard at the onset of the market siege. “I saw a man down on the ground.”
Dadone-Vaillant said he had found himself trapped in a cafe across the street from the store as police swarmed the area.
Before the standoffs were ended by the coordinated police actions, television images broadcast worldwide showed police convoys racing along a rain-slicked highway to Dammartin-en-Goele, about 25 miles from the capital near continental Europe’s busiest airport. Helicopters hovered overhead, silhouetted against cloudy afternoon skies.
The first glimpse of the two brothers since the brutal attack was on Thursday at a gas station where they allegedly stole food and fuel before fleeing by car.
As authorities had closed in on the suspects at the printing warehouse, residents In Dammartin-en-Goele were told not to leave their homes.
Tilemakhos Paraskevas, 26, who lives a few blocks from the print shop, said by telephone that the scene was like something out of a “horror movie.”
“There were helicopters in the air this morning. I could see about 100 police in the streets and police trucks,” he said. “Law enforcement were knocking on all the doors and telling people not to leave, to close the windows and turn off the lights.”
Schools were placed on lockdown. A teacher in the besieged town said she was huddled on the floor with her students, far from windows, and was trying to stop the children from panicking by singing them rhymes.
Anxious parents gathered outside the school’s gates for news about their children.
A salesman at the print shop told France Info radio that when the two men arrived at 8:30 a.m., he initially assumed they were officers with police special operations and shook one of the suspect’s hands. He said the man was dressed in black combat gear and heavily armed.
“Go, we don’t kill civilians,” the gunman said, according to the witness, who gave his name only as Didier. “I thought it was strange,” he said.
A woman identified as Irene, 82, who lives near the printing company, told the French newspaper Liberation: “I’m scared, I’m really scared. My blinds are open but I don’t dare go near the window to shut them. All my children are calling me because they are scared for me.”