Three terror suspects and four hostages were killed in France on Friday, as police brought to an end two separate hostage incidents relating to the deadly terror attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
In an industrial estate outside Paris, police killed the two brothers who allegedly mounted Wednesday’s devastating assault that killed 12 people and set off the biggest manhunt in modern French history.
Just a 15-minute drive away, SWAT teams killed another gunman who had holed up all afternoon in a kosher supermarket in a city suburb with several hostages. The siege left five dead in total, but the gunman’s alleged co-conspirator remained on the run Friday night, having escaped as police stormed the store.
Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, 34 and 32, the two French-born brothers who authorities say stormed Charlie Hebdo with Kalashnikovs and then fled in a stolen vehicle, holed up in a commercial building in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goèle early on Friday morning, holding one hostage inside. They were killed following a long standoff with police.
It now appears that the attack on Charlie Hebdo may have been plotted by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. The Kouachis telephoned a French news channel, BFM Television, during the siege to tell them the attack had been ordered by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Later on Friday, an AQAP member claimed the group had directed the attack “as revenge for the honor” of the Prophet Muhammad, the AP reports.
As SWAT teams closed in on the Kouachis, a separate crisis unfolded in the Porte de Vincennes area, the easternmost edge of Paris. Inside the Hyper-Casher kosher supermarket, a gunman held several people hostage, and finally died in a blaze of gunfire as crack anti-terror forces stormed the building at sundown. The French ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, confirmed the news in a tweet:
That gunman, police said, was Amedy Coulibaly, 32, the same man believed to have opened fire on police officers in the southern Paris suburb of Montrouge on Thursday morning, after they stopped their car, and then fled the scene with girlfriend Hayat Boumedienne, 26. One of the officers, a woman, died of her injuries about two hours after the shooting.
Coulibaly also contacted BFM as he was under siege to say he had been acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), but the extremist group—which is not allied with al-Qaeda—has not claimed to have engineered that attack.
At least 10 hostages escaped, according to a Alliance Police Union spokesman, CNN reports—but Boumedienne is believed to have escaped from the store in the confusion as hostages fled the building. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that four hostages had died, and four more injured.
French President François Hollande urged his citizens to bind together against “fanatics who have nothing to do with the Muslim religion” in a speech on Friday.
“This solidarity is something that we have to show with all our capacity. We are a free people, we will not give in to any pressures or any fears,” he said. “I assure you that we will come out even stronger from this hardship.”
Speaking at an event in Tennessee, President Barack Obama said his aides had been in close contact with their French counterparts Friday as the hostage situations unfolded. “The United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow,” he said. “We grieve with you. … We grieve with you, we fight alongside you to uphold our values, the values that we share, universal values that bind us together as friends and as allies.
“In the streets of Paris, the world has seen once again what terrorists stand for,” Obama added. “They have nothing to offer but hatred and human suffering.”
While Wednesday’s massacre and Thursday’s shooting at first appeared unconnected, French Prime Minister Manual Valls told reporters on Friday that the two were indeed linked, and that the Kouachi brothers seemed to have contact with Coulibaly.
French officials said on Thursday night that the older Kouachi brother, Saïd, had traveled to Yemen in 2011 for weapons training. Police have tracked Chérif, the younger brother, for years, after arresting him in 2004 while he tried to travel to Syria for military training, in order to move on to Iraq to fight U.S. troops as part of al-Qaeda’s franchise there.
French intelligence sources will now need to piece together the details—including the question as to how the Kouachis were able to pull off France’s worst terrorist attack in generations, against Charlie Hebdo‘s office, which had received multiple threats against it over the past few years.
A White House spokesperson said President Barack Obama had been kept updated on the situation, with national security agencies and White House officials in touch with their French counterparts on a “minute by minute” basis.
–Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller / Washington