Police launch double assault, ending Paris hostage standoffs
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French police carried out dual assaults on hostage-takers in and around Paris on Friday, killing all three gunmen and bringing a dramatic end to a three-day manhunt for the perpetrators of a deadly attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The two brothers wanted for the shooting of 12 people at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed in a raid by security forces on the print works where they were holed up with a hostage, 40 kilometres northeast of Paris.
Government sources said Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, came out with their guns blazing, prompting an assault on the building in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goële.
Automatic gunfire rang out, followed by blasts and then silence as smoke could be seen billowing from the roof of the print shop. The hostage was released unharmed.
Almost simultaneously, police stormed a Kosher supermarket where a gunman, identified as 32-year-old Amedy Coulibaly, had held several people captive on Paris’s eastern border with the suburb of Vincennes.
The siege ended with the deaths of four hostages, increasing the toll in France’s deadliest terrorist attacks in half a century. Fifteen other hostages were released.
TV footage of the Hyper Cacher Kosher supermarket showed dozens of heavily armed police officers massed outside two entrances. The assault began with gunfire and a loud explosion at the door, after which several hostages rushed out.
The hostage-taker, who police said was linked to the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, was also killed. The fate of an accomplice, Coulibaly’s partner Hayat Boumeddiene, remains unclear.
In a televised address Friday night, President François Hollande called the supermarket attack an “appalling, anti-Semitic act”.
The four attackers had ties to each other and to acts of terrorism that reached back years and extended from Paris to al Qaeda in Yemen. They epitomised Western authorities' greatest fear: Islamist radicals training abroad and returning to stage attacks on home soil.
Shortly after the assaults, French channel BFMTV said it spoke to two of the gunmen before they died. Cherif Kouachi allegedly told the channel that he and his brother were financed and dispatched by al Qaeda in Yemen, while Coulibaly claimed to be a member of the Islamic State organisation.
The Vincennes gunman said he had coordinated his actions with the Kouachi brothers.it
53 hours of terror
The dramatic climax to the two standoffs brought to an end 53 hours of terror that began when the Kouachi brothers slaughtered 12 people in an attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack while 11 people were wounded, four of them critically. The satirical magazine had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirised other religions and political figures.
The Kouachi brothers are thought to have carried out the attack in revenge for the weekly's repeated publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. A witness said one of the gunmen on Wednesday shouted: "We have killed Charlie Hebdo! We have avenged the Prophet!"
Security sources said the French-born brothers of Algerian origin had been under surveillance and had been placed on European and US "no-fly" lists.
Cherif, who also went by the name Abu Issen, was part of the "Buttes Chaumont network" that helped send would-be jihadists to fight for al Qaeda in Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.
The Kouachi brothers led police on a chase around northeast France, robbing a gas station Thursday and stealing a car Friday morning before seizing a hostage at the print works in Dammartin-en-Goële, near Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport.
It was as police gathered around the print works that reports of the second hostage-taking in eastern Paris came through.
‘You know who I am’
Earlier in the day, French officials had released a mug shot of Coulibaly, describing him as the chief suspect in the killing of a policewoman in Montrouge, south of Paris, on Thursday. Police said they had established a link between Coulibaly and the Charlie Hebdo gunmen.
According to French media, Coulibaly had been jailed several times for petty crimes, including theft and drug dealing. He converted to Islam and became radicalised while in jail, where he befriended Cherif Kouachi between 2005 and 2006.
Both men were detained by police in 2010 as part of an investigation into a botched attempt to release a known Islamist, Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, a member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), who is serving a life sentence for his part in the 1995 Paris metro bombings.
In 2013, Coulibaly was given a five-year jail term for his part in the attempted jail break, most of which he had served already. He was released the next year.
During Friday’s standoff, Coulibaly threatened to kill hostages in the supermarket if police carried out an assault on the Kouachi brothers, French officials said.
It was not clear whether the four slain hostages were killed before or during the police’s assault. The gunman opened fire as he entered the Kosher store, reportedly declaring “You know who I am.” Several people, some of them wounded, were able to flee.
News of the second hostage-taking prompted officials to shut down all shops along the Rue des Rosiers, a famed Jewish street in the city’s Marais neighbourhood, amid fears of further attacks.
Some 88,000 members of the police and the military were deployed in and around Paris in the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
As investigators continued the search for Coulibaly’s partner Friday evening, France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned the shaken nation to remain “extremely vigilant”.
"These madmen, fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion," President Hollande said in his televised address. "France has not seen the end of the threats it faces."
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
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