French security forces have stormed the site of a standoff with hostage takers in two separate incidents Friday, amid a massive manhunt for the two suspects in the slaying of 12 people at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. French media report that the two suspects have been killed.
Al Jazeera's correspondent on the scene reported that there were more than 10 security personnel walking freely around the perimeter of the scene. They were not in combat positions, a sign that the siege is over.
The suspects in the newspaper attack took one person hostage at a printing factory, as gunmen reportedly linked to the suspects took several people hostage at a Kosher grocery in eastern Paris, French media reported.
The suspects, the fugitive brothers believed to be behind Wednesday’s attack on the newspaper offices, drove to an industrial site near the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, around 25 miles northeast of Paris. They holed up inside a printing house.
Helicopters have been seen hovering over the area and armed police rushed to the area. Nearby residents were told by authorities to stay indoors and schools were placed on lockdown
Christelle Alleume, who works across the street from the besieged building, said that gunfire broke out Friday morning. “We heard shots and we returned very fast because everyone was afraid,” she told French news channel i-Tele. “We had orders to turn off the lights and not approach the window.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that an operation was underway. In a televised address, he said the aim was “to neutralize the perpetrators of the cowardly attack carried out two days ago.”
Meanwhile, a shooting broke out at a kosher grocery in eastern Paris on Friday after an armed man and woman took at least five people hostage including women and children, French officials reported. At least one person was injured.
Police say the hostage-takers in the two separate incidents know each other. The gunman is suspected of being the same man who killed a policewoman in southern Paris on Thursday.
Friday's incidents come 48 hours after three masked gunmen stormed Charlie Hebdo offices shooting dead members of the newspaper's staff and two police officers before fleeing.
One suspect, Mourad Hamyd, 18, has since surrendered to police.
But brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, French nationals in their early 30s, went on the run, sparking one of France’s largest manhunts of recent times involving the mobilization of some 88,000 security forces across the country.
The frantic search for the pair came as it emerged they had been on a U.S. terror watch list "for years.”
Both brothers were also known to French security services. The younger brother, Cherif Kouachi, was arrested in 2005 en route to Iraq. He later served time in prison as a result to his links to extremist networks.
Said Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, according to officials in the U.S., although it is unclear if he received military training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there.
They are wanted over what French President François Hollande has described as a terrorist act “of exceptional barbarism.”
On Wednesday they forced one of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists to open the door to the office. Clad all in black and brandishing automatic rifles they then entered the building while staff were holding an editorial meeting. One witness said that the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” before calling out “Charb” — the pen name of Stéphane Chabonnier, the publication’s editor and one its most famous cartoonists.
He, seven other journalists, a maintenance worker, a visitor to the offices and two police officers were killed in the subsequent gunfire.
Charlie Hebdo, a satire weekly that courts controversy, had been targeted before. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in 2011 after it ran an issue with a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover.
Within hours of Wednesday's attack, thousands of people jammed the Place de la Republique, near the site of the shooting, to honor the victims, waving pens and signs reading "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie"). Similar rallies and vigils have held in London, Madrid, Berlin, Brussels, New York and Washington, D.C.
Surviving staffers at Charlie Hebdo have indicated that they will push ahead with publishing the next edition of the weekly in defiance of the attack. They are expected to print 1 million copies — much more than its normal 45,000 circulation — memorial editions in response to the global outrage over the massacre.
French media rallied to support the publication, offering support, equipment and hundreds of thousands of euros.
"We have decided to continue Charlie with those who survived," Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer Richard Malka told French newspaper Liberation on Wednesday. "It's our way of saying that no, they did not kill Charlie, they haven't won."
Patrick Pelloux, a columnist not in the office at the time of the attack, likewise told a television interviewer that the magazine would come out next week. "It will be tough," he said. "We must not give in.
With wire services