The terror crisis gripping France deepened after a gunman took hostages at a kosher grocery in Paris even as police encircled suspects in the massacre at magazine Charlie Hebdo in a town near Charles de Gaulle airport.
The gunman, who yesterday shot and killed a policewoman, took five hostages and injured at least one person at the Hyper Cacher store near the Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris, Agence France-Presse said, citing police sources. That came as police swooped in on the suspected Islamist perpetrators of the Jan. 7 attack on the satirical weekly that left 12 people dead in the worst terrorist incident in France in half a century.
“There can be copycat acts that we have to do all we can to prevent,” French President Francois Hollande said. “This is the worst attack in France in 50 years. We will do everything to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Three days of violent incidents in and around the French capital have left the country war-weary as armed security officials at schools, train stations and landmarks have created an atmosphere of a city under siege. The attacks have spawned an environment of fear and sparked debates in France and Europe on security, identity and cultural values.
Twenty-six miles outside Paris, special forces are confronting the suspected perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Said Kouachi, 34, and his brother Cherif, 32, are holed up at a commercial printing business on the edge of Dammartin-en-Goele, 8 miles from Charles de Gaulle, France’s main airport. Heavily armed police blocked approaches to the town and helicopters hovered in the fog overhead. AFP said the men have taken a hostage.
In eastern Paris, police are surrounding the kosher store, blockading the area, and have asked businesses to shut down and are confining children inside schools.
Hayat Boumeddiene, left, and Amedy Coulibaly, suspects linked to yesterday's Montrouge shooting that killed a police officer in Paris, are seen in handout photographs on the French police website. Police identified the suspected shooter of the policewoman yesterday as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and said they are also searching for another person in the attack, a 26-year-old woman named Hayat Boumeddiene.
Police identified the suspected shooter of the policewoman yesterday as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and said they are also searching for another person in the attack, a 26-year-old woman named Hayat Boumeddiene. The two are “armed and dangerous,” they said.
The suspects in Paris are believed to have ties to the Kouachis, according to police.
The Kouachi case has put France in the midst of one of the largest security operations in its history. On Jan. 7, two men with Kalashnikov rifles attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, before fleeing in a getaway car.
Yesterday, elite police units surrounded three hamlets about 43 miles north-east of Paris, after having determined that the men had fled to the area.
They were then tracked down to the building in Dammartin, opposite a logistics site operated by grocer Carrefour SA. (CA) The Dammartin town council asked residents to stay home, while 1,000 children in schools in the area were evacuated.
At Charles de Gaulle, operator Aeroports de Paris said flights were being re-routed around the area. A nearby hospital said it’s on alert to receive people injured in the operation.
“An operation is currently under way in Dammartin-en-Goele and special police forces are being deployed,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in televised comments. “All of the ministry’s forces, police forces, are mobilized.”
The police are trying to establish contact with the suspects, AFP reported.
The Kouachis may be in possession of a rocket launcher and other weapons, according to a police official who declined to be identified in line with government policy.
Cherif Kouachi was known to French police and spent time in prison for participation in a jihadist group. His brother Said may have been trained at a militant camp in Yemen, police said.
During the attack on Charlie Hebdo, one of the two masked assailants was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.
The Charlie Hebdo assault shocked France’s political and media establishments, killing four of the magazine’s best-known cartoonists.
Surviving staff, with the help of journalists from other French media organizations, are planning to publish a new issue as usual next week with a print run of one million copies -- about 17 times its usual circulation.
The publication has angered some Muslims with its depictions of the prophet Muhammad, who it has lampooned repeatedly over the years alongside figures from Jesus to Michael Jackson.
As police approached what might be the endgame for the Charlie Hebdo drama, residents of Dammartin-en-Geoele were at a loss over what was happening in their semi-rural neighbourhood.
“We’re sort of barricaded in our house and looking out the windows,” Noel Beckwith, who lives in the area, told Bloomberg Television.