France answers threat, kills 3 terrorists in multiple raids
DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France — Deploying stun grenades and assault rifles, French police staged nearly simultaneous operations to end two bloody standoffs Friday, capping three days of carnage that plunged the nation into a state of siege and heightened fears across Europe over the resurgent threat of homegrown terror.
The dramatic police actions began in the morning in Dammartin-en-Goele, near Charles de Gaulle airport, where two brothers — Said Kouachi, 34, and Chérif Kouachi, 32, who touched off the crisis Wednesday in a bloody rampage at the offices of a satirical newspaper — were holed up in a printing plant.
Sightings of the Kouachi brothers near an industrial park caused thousands of anti-terrorism forces to descend.
The brothers exchanged fire with police and abandoned a stolen car. They then took refuge, and one hostage, inside the printing company, which apparently was selected at random.
Twenty-six miles south in a corner of multicultural eastern Paris, a third man, Amedy Coulibaly, opened fire in a kosher market, killing four, and barricaded himself with at least 15 hostages there. He threatened to kill his captives if the Kouachis were not freed.
As a precaution, the Paris mayor's office shut down all Jewish and kosher shops on Rosiers Street in the city's famed Marais neighborhood, a popular tourist hub that before the Jewish Sabbath is typically crowded.
A hundred students were locked down in schools near the supermarket, and the highway ringing Paris was closed.
As night fell, the Kouachi brothers emerged from a crack in the door of the plant, guns blazing in an apparent death pact. Police responded with stun grenades as the men, still firing as they fell to the floor, were gunned down by police.
Minutes later, Coulibaly, 32, a French citizen of Senegalese descent who was suspected of gunning down a policewoman Thursday, died in a police raid to free the hostages at the kosher market. A fourth suspect — Coulibaly's wife — remains at large.
Police said a total of 16 hostages were freed: one at the printing facility and the rest from the kosher store.
The crises deeply shocked the nation, exposed gaping holes in state security and heightened the ethnic, religious and political tensions that have festered in the French republic.
President Francois Hollande appealed to the nation not to see the attacks as the product of Islam, but rather as the acts of “fanatics” who “have nothing do with the Muslim religion.” He seemed to be preparing the nation for a new era of uncertainty.
“France is not finished with this threat,” he said.
Tensions had been mounting in France as an estimated 1,200 citizens have left their homes to join Islamists fighting in Syria in Iraq.
The terrorists epitomized Western authorities' greatest fear: Islamic radicals who trained abroad and came home to stage attacks.
The brothers were not unknown to authorities: One had a terrorism-related conviction for ties to a network sending fighters to battle American forces in Iraq, and both were on the U.S. no-fly list, according to an American official.
Police issued a bulletin asking anyone with information about Coulibaly's wife, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, his suspected accomplice in the market attack, to contact them, saying she was potentially “armed and dangerous.”
Michel Thooris, secretary-general of France's police labor union, told The Associated Press that he did not believe these were “three people isolated in their little world.”
“This could very well be a little cell,” Thooris said. “There are probably more than three people,” he added, given that Cherif Kouachi and Coulibaly had made contacts with jihadist groups in the past.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, speaking in a televised interview, indicated authorities are bracing for the possibility of new attacks.
“We are facing a major challenge” and “very determined individuals,” Valls said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.