Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

France on alert as sieges end

French President Francois Hollande has called on the country to "remain vigilant" as the hostage crisis which started at the Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre came to a bloody end with the loss of at least 20 lives.

Three terrorists were among those killed today - including brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi - who were shot after they emerged from a bolt hole firing at police where they kept a print worker hostage. He escaped unharmed.

A third terrorist, 32-year-old Amedy Coulibaly with links to Cherif Kouachi, had detained around 20 hostages at a Jewish supermarket this morning in which four were killed before police stormed the building as Coulibaly said evening prayers. He was killed in the shoot-out, although questions remain tonight about the whereabouts of at least one suspect connected to the supermarket siege.

Coulibaly's girlfriend accomplice, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, is believed to be on the run tonight. She is also thought to be involved in the execution of a female police officer south of Paris on Thursday morning - the third police fatality since the slaughters began, following the death of two officers responding to the Charlie Hebdo shooting on Wednesday.

It was also reported that another male gunman had managed to escape from the kosher store.

As France came to terms with a tragedy that rocked the nation, its President Mr Hollande said in an address: "I call you all to be vigilant, to remain united and remain mobilised. Vigilance is something the state must demonstrate.

"I ask you to remain united - it's our best weapon. It shows we are determined to fight against anything that can divide us.

"Several leaders have let me know that they will be here for the big gathering that is taking place on Sunday. I will be with them, and I hope all the French people will stand on Sunday, to defend the values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, which we are so attached to, and Europe represents, which will come out even stronger."

A number of international dignitaries, including David Cameron, are expected to arrive in Paris this weekend for Sunday's unity rally.

Dramatic footage from the Kouachi s' hideaway in Dammartin-en-Goele, a town around 25 miles (40km) north of Paris, and the Hyper Cacher kosher store in Porte de Vincennes, in the east of the capital, played out on television screens shortly before 4pm GMT (5pm local time).

The first rescue attempt, in Dammartin, showed flashes of light accompanying the rapid gunfire in dramatic scenes which last for about 10 seconds.

Minutes before the explosions, balaclava-clad officers were seen moving towards the building .

Less than 15 minutes later, six loud and very quick explosions were heard at the kosher supermarket.

Ambulances and fire engines could be seen rushing to the scene in Paris following a rapid exchange of gunfire.

In what would become one of the most poignant images of the three-day massacre, grief-stricken hostages, including children, were seen huddled together and being led quickly to safety as members of the public and media were urged to move back. Another was carried in a fireman's lift following the four-and-a-half-hour ordeal.

Four hostages were said to have been killed before the police stormed the building as Coulibaly prayed - officers secretly listening in to the situation after the hostage-taker apparently failed to hang up properly after making demands by telephone to specialist officers. The body of another gunman is said to have been found inside the building.

The Kouachi brothers started the killing spree on Wednesday morning when they attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

It is understood that the Kouachi brothers, who were well-known for holding jihadist views, were on a British watch and no-fly list to prevent them from entering the UK or passing through a British airport.

They left a trail of dead bodies in their wake, include three Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and its editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb.

Several people, including police officers, remain in hospital following the shootings across the French capital and its surroundings, at the hands of the Kouachis, Coulibaly and any associates.

The Kouachis stole a Peugeot earlier today in the town of Montagny Sainte Felicite, triggering a car chase during which gunfire was reported.

Before they were killed, they were said to have declared they want to die "as martyrs".

A salesman told how he inadvertently shook the hand of one of the terrorists when he arrived for a meeting with the owner of the printing firm this morning, whose name he gave as Michel.

The eyewitness, named as Didier, told radio station France Info that he encountered a "heavily armed" man dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest.

He said: "I encountered a terrorist and shook his hand. (The armed man) said to me 'I am the police. Go, we do not kill civilians'.

"I decided to call the police. I guess that was one of the terrorists.

"They were heavily armed. I was in front of the business, I shook Michel's hand and the hand of one of the terrorists. After I left, Michel shut the gate behind me. I knew something was wrong. I have been very lucky this morning."

A lockdown was imposed in the surrounding area as scores of heavily armed police surrounded the building.

Residents in the vicinity were warned to stay in their homes and children were being kept inside schools.


From Belfast Telegraph