Charlie Hebdo: Cornered, the last stand of the fugitive Kouachi brothers
The attack on France and its values that began in the blood-splattered offices of a satirical magazine played out part of its final act in a printworks last night as the two brothers sought for the Charlie Hebdo shooting were cornered and shot dead. They had told police: "We want to die as martyrs."
An eight-hour siege on an industrial estate in the Paris satellite town of Dammartin-en-Goele where Cherif and Said Kouachi had fled, ended in a hail of gunfire and three heavy explosions at 5pm (4pm GMT) as the brothers emerged from a building spraying bullets. Elite French police who had surrounded the building answered in kind.
For one long minute as dusk fell, the sound of small arms fire filled the air in this usually ghostly-quiet town, followed by the dull echo of detonations. One last muffled explosion two minutes later followed by silence signalled that the lives of the Kouachis, who had been armed with AK-47 rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, were over.
A man who had been taken hostage by the brothers was freed. While civilians rescued in both raids yesterday were described as hostages, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported last night that the Kouachi brothers, holed up in an industrial building in Dammartin-en-Goële, north-east of Paris, may not have been aware of the fact that someone else was trapped in the building with them.
Police are said to have received invaluable intelligence on the brothers' movements within the building because a graphic designer had hidden in a box when they took the owner hostage. According to Edouard de Mareschal, the Figaro correspondent in Dammartin, at the end of the operation a 27-year-old graphic designer named Lilian sent a text message to his father saying that he had been hiding in the building. "I think they have killed everyone," he wrote, asking his family to alert the police.
The brothers had been brought to ground on the industrial park - so close to Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport that flights could be seen landing overhead - after they broke cover in a 72-hour manhunt and exchanged gunfire with police as they fled in a hijacked car.
The last stand of the men suspected of the murders of 12 people in Wednesday's attack came as France lived the most grimly extraordinary day yet in the three-day trauma.
As the Kouachi brothers were surrounded by members of the same police special forces units which had 24 hours earlier been seeking them in woodland in the adjoining Aisne region, the supermarket siege began in Paris.
The third day of the dark drama which has confronted France with its worst terrorist crisis in decades - and sparked a defiant defence of its values - began shortly after 8am yesterday when Cherif (32) and 34-year-old Said emerged from their overnight hiding place in the Longpont Forest, 60 miles east of Paris. Throughout Thursday, the area had been flooded with forces from the two specialist units which form the core of France's counter-terrorist strike force - Raid GIGN - after the French-Algerian brothers revealed their whereabouts by staging a robbery on a petrol station.
As the drama drew to a terrifying close last night, President Barack Obama immediately pledged US support to the people of France. He said: "I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow. In the streets of Paris the world's seen once again what terrorists stand for: they have nothing to offer but hatred and human suffering. And we stand for freedom and hope and the dignity of all human beings. And that's what the city of Paris represents to the world."