Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

French police raid two sites, kill Charlie Hebdo suspects

Paris suspects killed in siege, and Paris police storm grocery and kill gunman holding several hostages

Two Al-Qaeda-linked brothers suspected in the Charlie Hebdo killings and an alleged associate held hostages at two separate locations on Friday, raising fears across France of another massacre, before French security forces launched coordinated assaults in which the assailants and at least four hostages were killed.

Paris officials scrambled to protect residents and tourists from further attacks, shutting down a famed Jewish neighborhood, putting schools under lock down and urging residents to stay indoors and remain vigilant.

France has been on high alert since the country's worst terror attack in decades — the massacre Wednesday in Paris at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 10 staff members and two police officers dead.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), widely regarded as the most active and dangerous branch of the organization, on Friday claimed responsibility for the attack "as revenge for the honor" of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The weekly publication often raised ire among Muslims for its offensive depictions of the prophet.

After two days on the run, the brothers on Friday came out of their hideaway at a printing plant in Dammartin-en-Goele, 25 miles northeast of Paris, with guns blazing, a French police official said. The assailants, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, were killed in a shootout with police and their hostage was freed, authorities said.

A third suspect in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Mourad Hamyd, 18, turned himself into police on Thursday.

Another gunman who took at least five hostages Friday afternoon at a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris also died in a nearly simultaneous raid there, said Gael Fabiano of the UNSA police union. The gunman was identified as Amedy Coulibaly, who officials believe was also responsible for the killing of a Paris policewoman on Thursday.

Coulibaly had reportedly burst into the grocery shooting just a few hours before the Jewish Sabbath began, declaring "You know who I am," an official recounted. The attack came before sundown when the store would have been crowded with shoppers.

A police official said Coulibaly had threatened to kill his hostages if police launched an assault on the brothers. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the dual hostage situations, described the events as "clearly linked." 

Two police officials, who were also not permitted to give their names, confirmed Coulibaly's death and one said four hostages also died at the grocery.

French President Francois Hollande, in a televised speech Friday night, confirmed that four hostages at the grocery had been killed, as he lauded the police response to the assaults and called for unity to help neutralize further attacks.

"We should be able to respond to attacks by force and by our solidarity," said Hollande. "Unity is our best weapon against terrorism and anti-Semitism."

It’s not clear how many hostages were held in the grocery at the time of the assault or what happened to Hayet Boumddiene, a woman listed on a police bulletin as Coulibaly's accomplice.

Trying to fend off further attacks, the Paris mayor's office early on Friday shut down all shops along Rue des Rosiers in the city's famed Marais neighborhood. The street is only a half-mile away from Charlie Hebdo's offices.

By Friday afternoon, French security forces were preparing to launch an assault on the grocery when explosions and gunshots rang outside the printing plant near Charles de Gaulle airport where the brothers were holed up. Security forces had surrounded the building for most of the day. After the explosions, police SWAT forces could be seen on the roof of the building and one police helicopter landed near it.

"I think it's over," Al Jazeera's correspondent at the scene said. He 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 was over.

Moments later, Audrey Taupenas, spokeswoman for Dammartin-en-Goele, confirmed the brothers had died in the clash.

While few facts about Coulibaly and his alleged accomplice are known, the Kouachi brothers — both Frenchmen — were recognized among intelligence agencies.

Cherif Kouachi, the youngest, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for ties to a network sending jihadists to fight U.S. forces in Iraq.

A Yemeni security official said his 34-year-old brother, Said Kouachi, is suspected of having fought in 2011 for Al-Qaeda in Yemen, where he also allegedly met with Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

On Friday morning, one of the Kouachi brothers spoke by telephone to a reporter for French news channel BFM-TV, telling him that the Charlie Hebdo attack was planned and financed by AQAP.

Later on Friday, a member of AQAP, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the group had directed the attack on the French magazine.

The member said "the leadership of AQAP directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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