The jihadi brothers who launched a terrorist attack against the staff of a satirical magazine have been killed by French commando units in a dramatic shootout near Paris.
Explosions and gunfire ripped through an industrial park close to Charles de Gaulle Airport, as special forces opened fire on a warehouse where Chérif and Saïd Kouachi were holed up with a hostage Friday. The al Qaeda-linked gunmen shot back, but only managed to injure one officer before they were taken out. The hostage was unharmed.
Twenty miles away, security forces also stormed a Jewish supermarket where a third member of the same Parisian terror cell had taken at least six hostages and threatened to kill them all unless his comrades were allowed to escape. Soon after the Kouachi brothers had been fatally wounded, a flash-bang grenade signaled a second police raid and officers charged into the kosher deli.
The gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, 33, was killed. Several hostages, including a young boy in his father’s arms, were seen fleeing the store, but French prosecutors said four hostages had been killed when Coulibaly first entered the store.
The coordinated police raids brought to an end the most deadly terrorist attack in France for a generation. Over three days, at least 19 or 20 people lost their lives, including three terrorists.
A fourth suspect, a 26-year-old woman named Hayat Boumeddiene, remains at large. She is described as “armed and dangerous.” French police said they suspect she was involved in the murder of a policewoman Thursday morning, along with her partner Coulibaly.
Friday’s violent denouement came hours after the Kouachi brothers had broken through a roadblock in a hail of bullets and raced away from police. They took cover inside a print works to the north east of Paris, where they held a member of staff as a hostage.
It is unclear how the men escaped the police and managed to enter the CTD print works, but a man named Didier called France Info radio to say he had attended an appointment at the plant this morning only to be greeted at the door by the owner and a man whom he assumed to be an armed police officer. “We all shook hands and my client told me to leave,” he said. The man dressed in black holding an automatic weapon said: “Go, we don’t kill civilians.”
“I decided to call the police, I guess it was one of the terrorists.”
Soon after, hundreds of police officers and special-forces operatives converged on the industrial zone and surrounded the building. Hovering above the scene, commandos in helicopters were poised with automatic rifles.
Three elementary schools, hundreds of homes, and half of the airport’s runways were on put on lockdown as police negotiators tried to convince the Kouachis to spare their hostage. Yves Albarello, MP of Seine-et-Marne, said the gunmen told police they were ready to “die as martyrs.”
As the siege continued, a ceremony in central Paris was being held to honor the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which lost 10 journalists and cartoonists Wednesday. Patrick Klugman, the deputy mayor of Paris, said: “We are living our kind of 9/11,” he said. “As soon as this attack [happened], Paris citizens came together to show were are not afraid, we are Charlie Hebdo.”
With footage of the siege against his associates being broadcast all over the world, Coulibaly walked into a kosher supermarket in the east of Paris and opened fire. He reportedly shouted “You know who I am,” and threatened to murder everyone inside if police tried to storm the print works.
As officers moved into position for a potential raid on the Kouachis’ hideout, the brothers made a break for it. Police officials told the AP that they came out with guns blazing. They were met by a barrage of explosions, smoke, and automatic weapon fire which finally ended their three-day rampage through France.
The authorities will be keen to apprehend the fourth suspect as the deaths of the three terrorists will hamper efforts to trace the extent of the cell’s links to major terror networks.
The brothers reportedly told several witnesses to their atrocities that they were part of al Qaeda in Yemen, while Coulibaly spoke to a French television station from the supermarket and claimed that he belonged to the Islamic State.
A senior U.S. intelligence official told The New York Times that Saïd Kouachi, the older of the two brothers, spent several months in Yemen in 2011, where he received small-arms and marksmanship training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most feared al Qaeda affiliates.
According to a Yemeni intelligence source, Saïd met with the notorious U.S. preacher Anwar al Awlaki. The influential al Qaeda propagandist, who was born in New Mexico, died in a U.S. drone strike later that year. “We do not have confirmed information that he was trained by al Qaeda, but what was confirmed was that he has met with Awlaki in Shabwa,” the Yemeni official told Reuters.
One of Awlaki’s achievements was the production of AQAP’s English-language magazine, Inspire. In a 2013 edition, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier, was named on a list of people “wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam.” The cartoonist, better known as Charb, was shot dead Wednesday.
Charbonnier’s passion for free speech, which was shared by his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, will be celebrated Sunday at a rally through Paris that will be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the prime ministers of Britain, Spain, and Italy and EU Council President Donald Tusk.