Three days of terror that left at least 20 people dead across greater Paris ended violently Friday when police stormed a suburban printing plant and killed two brothers with Al Qaeda connections as a nearly simultaneous raid in the capital took out an accomplice holding hostages.
SWAT team commandos shot to death Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, as they attempted to flee the print shop in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle Airport, authorities said. The Kouachi brothers, suspects in Wednesday's massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, were killed as they exited with a blaze of automatic weapons fire.
Near the Porte de Vincennes in southeast Paris, police moved in on a gunman who had seized at least 18 hostages at a kosher market early in the afternoon, when it was crowded with shoppers just hours before the Jewish Sabbath. That gunman, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, was shot dead after a four-hour standoff in which at least three of the hostages were killed.
Coulibaly, 32, and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, had been attempting to force police to stand down from the confrontation with the Kouachi brothers by threatening to kill more of the hostages. The captives who died in the siege may have been killed at the onset; sharpshooters watching from a nearby rooftop could see several immobile figures on the shop floor, a police source said.
The source told The Times that a Kalashnikov rifle was found with a fifth body in the market. It was unclear whether that person had been an accomplice of Coulibaly or a fourth slain hostage. Coulibaly had called French television offices about two hours into the standoff and said four people were dead.
In an interview with France 2 television, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that five people were killed at the market; he identified them as Coulibaly and four hostages. He said the information was preliminary and declined to say when the hostages were killed.
Boumeddiene remained at large late Friday. She may have escaped when the surviving hostages fled the market as police moved in with a hail of gunfire and stun grenades, authorities said, but they were not sure whether she was ever inside.
The police operations quelled a spate of terrorism that gripped millions worldwide and riveted attention on the manhunt that followed the Wednesday assault at the magazine, whose lampooning of Islamic extremists and the prophet Muhammad had angered some Muslims. A dozen people were shot to death in that assault, including eight journalists.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Friday said that it directed the attack at the magazine.
U.S. counter-terrorism officials said they had been told by French counterparts that the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly were well known to those who monitor security threats. Said Kouachi, the elder of the brothers, who were French citizens of Algerian descent, had been trained in weapons handling in 2011 by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. officials said.
Cherif Kouachi had been convicted on terrorism-related charges in 2008 for recruiting insurgents for the fight against U.S. forces in Iraq. He served 18 months, and authorities declined to prosecute him in a separate case involving a plot to free a fellow militant from prison.
Both brothers were on the U.S. no-fly list, identified as suspected security threats.
Coulibaly had been named by police earlier Friday as a suspect in the killing Thursday of a female police officer in the Montrouge area of Paris. Authorities issued mug shots of Coulibaly and Boumeddiene and warned that the suspects were considered armed and dangerous.
French media had reported that authorities believed the policewoman's shooting was linked to the Charlie Hebdo assault. In addition to the slain journalists, the attack killed two police officers, a visitor and a maintenance man and sparked the search for the Kouachi brothers that deployed more than 80,000 law enforcement personnel across northern France.
Shortly before 10 a.m. Friday, after police had surrounded the Kouachis at the printing plant, a journalist with BFM TV called the business to try to reach witnesses and spoke with Cherif Kouachi, the station reported. The younger brother spoke to the broadcaster for about two minutes in a calm and determined manner, “as if he had prepared his answers,” the station said.
Kouachi told BFM TV that he was mobilized for the Paris attack by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and that the operation was financed by Anwar Awlaki shortly before the American-born cleric was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen in September 2011. He defended the killings at Charlie Hebdo, saying, “We are the defenders of the prophet.”
“They said they want to die as martyrs,” Yves Albarello, a local lawmaker in the command post at the airport area, told journalists regarding communication between hostage negotiators and the brothers.
Coulibaly had telephoned BFM TV in the afternoon, the broadcaster reported. Asked if there was a link between him and the Kouachi brothers, he responded, “Yes, we synchronized ourselves for that, the operations.” He said the brothers had targeted the magazine while he, at the direction of the extremist group Islamic State, had killed the policewoman.
BFM TV reported that Coulibaly was released from prison two months ago after a conviction for “having been part of an Islamist group that tried to help those responsible for the 1995 attacks [on the Paris Metro] to escape,” quoting justice expert Sarah-Lou Cohen.
Fearing more attacks by what authorities have said may be a larger terrorist cell, the Paris mayor's office ordered shops in the bustling Jewish district of Le Marais closed as a precaution. A shopping area popular with tourists and Parisians, Marais is in the heart of the city, miles from the hostage scenes at the northeast and southeast fringes of Paris.
President Francois Hollande went on national television less than two hours after the standoffs ended to praise the police actions and call on the public to remain braced for further challenges to their liberty and security.
“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 Obama hailed the French operations, saying U.S. 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.
Witnesses at both standoffs described tense scenes as police in riot gear and armored vehicles flooded into the cordoned-off crime scenes, with sharpshooters setting up snipers’ nests on nearby rooftops. Helicopters hovered over the forces surrounding the printing plant near Charles de Gaulle, the busiest international airport on the European continent.
With the brothers trapped, Charles de Gaulle closed two runways to arrivals to avoid interfering in the standoff or endangering planes.
In the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood about 23 miles to the south, shoppers, students and diners were locked down inside the crime scene cordon that extended several blocks in every direction from the market.
“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 kosher market, said of the gunfire heard at the onset of the 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. Helicopters hovered overhead, silhouetted against cloudy afternoon skies.
The search for the brothers was launched after gunmen forced their way into the magazine offices in the shadow of the Bastille monument and burst into a weekly staff meeting, where they methodically killed eight journalists, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier; his police bodyguard; three cartoonists; and two others at the office. A second policeman was gunned down on the street outside as the assailants fled.
The first glimpse of the two brothers after the massacre was Thursday at a gas station, where officials say they stole food and fuel before fleeing by car.
Another suspect, Hamyd Mourad, 18, turned himself in Wednesday after learning that he was being sought. Police have yet to explain the suspected connection to the teenager. Friends told French media that Mourad had been at school with them at the time of the magazine attack.
Thousands of demonstrators jammed the Place de la Republique and other prominent venues across Europe over the last three days to show sympathy for the victims and solidarity in the fight against terrorism. In memory of the slain journalists, many held aloft pens and signs reading “Je suis Charlie” — I am Charlie — and declarations that their cherished right of free expression would not be extinguished by terrorism.
Special correspondent Boyle and Times staff writer McDonnell reported from Paris, and staff writer Williams from Los Angeles. Special correspondents Aviva Cashmira and Chris O’Brien in Paris, and staff writers Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles and Brian Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.