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French security forces kill gunmen, end hostage sieges

PARIS – With explosions and gunfire, security forces Friday ended three days of terror around Paris, killing the two al-Qaida-linked brothers who staged a murderous rampage at a satirical newspaper and an accomplice who seized hostages at a kosher supermarket to try to help the brothers escape.

The worst terrorist violence France has seen in decades killed at least 20 people, including the three gunmen. A fourth suspect – the common law wife of the market attacker – was still at large and believed to be armed.

Al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen said it directed the attack against the publication Charlie Hebdo to avenge the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly’s satire.

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 a U.S. official.

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President François Hollande urged his nation to remain united and vigilant, and the city shut down a famed Jewish neighborhood amid fears of more violence.

“The threats facing France are not finished,” Hollande said. “We are a free people who cave to no pressure.”

The drama, which played out on live TV and social media, began with the brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi methodically massacring 12 people Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices, stopping to shoot a wounded police officer in the head before escaping by car.

On Thursday, a gunman police identified as Amedy Couliabaly shot a policewoman to death south of Paris, although authorities were not sure at first if it was related to the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

It all ended at dusk Friday with near-simultaneous raids in two locations: a printing plant in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, where the Kouachis were holed up with a lone hostage, and the Paris supermarket where Coulibaly killed four hostages and threatened more violence unless the police let the Kouachis go.

As scores of black-clad security forces surrounded both sites, booming explosions, heavy gunfire and dense smoke heralded the news that the twin sieges finally had ended.

The three gunmen were dead – but also killed were four of the hostages at the market. Sixteen hostages were freed, one from the printing plant and 15 others from the store.

The attackers had ties both to each other and to terrorist activities that reached back years and extended from Paris to al-Qaida in Yemen. They epitomized Western authorities’ greatest fear: Islamic radicals who trained abroad and came home to stage attacks.

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After the killings at the Charlie Hebdo offices, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his 34-year-old brother Said led police on a chase around northeastern France, robbing a gas station and stealing a car before ending up at the printing plant in Dammartin-en-Goele, near Charles de Gaulle airport. One of the brothers was wounded in the neck at one point during a shootout with police after he commandeered a car, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said.

A member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula gave a statement in English to The Associated Press saying the group’s leadership “directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully.”

The attack was in line with warnings from the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to the West about “the consequences of the persistence in the blasphemy against Muslim sanctities,” the member said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the group’s regulations do not permit him to give his name.

He said the group has delayed its declaration of responsibility for “security reasons.”

The brothers were cornered there for much of the day before the explosions and gunfire rang out in the twilight and a police SWAT team clambered onto the roof.

“They said they want to die as martyrs,” Yves Albarello, a local lawmaker inside the command post, told French television station i-Tele.

At the kosher grocery near the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood in Paris, the gunman burst in shooting just a few hours before the Jewish Sabbath began, declaring “You know who I am,” the official recounted. The attack came before sundown when the store would have been crowded with shoppers.

Coulibaly killed the four people in the market shortly after entering, Molins said.

Police released a photo of Coulibaly and his wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, described as an accomplice.

Authorities increasingly grew to see links between the attackers after they discovered that Boumeddiene and the companion of one of the Kouachi brothers had exchanged about 500 phone calls, Molins said.

He added that several people have been given preliminary charges in the investigation. They include relatives of the three gunmen.

Several people who were wounded when the gunman opened fire in the grocery store fled and got medical care, the official said.


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