PARIS, France, — A pair of dramatic raids Friday in France led to the killing of three terrorists — one suspected in the fatal shooting of a policewoman, the other two in the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine — and to the freeing of at least some of those they were holding hostage.
The French government’s work is not over. There’s still a lot of healing to do, a lot of questions to answer about how to prevent future attacks, and the pursuit of a woman wanted in the policewoman’s shooting.
Still, as Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, “The nation is relieved tonight.”
Charlie Hebdo attackers holed up in print shop
The day’s drama began in Dammartin-en-Goele, where brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi ended up in a print shop in an industrial area.
A salesman, who identified himself only as Didier, told France Info radio that he shook one of the gunman’s hands at about 8:30 a.m. as they arrived at the business. Didier told the public radio station that he first thought the man, who was dressed in black and heavily armed, was a police officer.
As he left, the armed man said, “Go, we don’t kill civilians.” Didier said, “It wasn’t normal. I did not know what was going on.”
What was going on, very soon, was a hostage situation.
The gunmen told police that they wanted to die as martyrs, Yves Albarello, who is in France’s Parliament, said on channel iTele. Meanwhile, the area was locked down — with children stuck in schools, roads closed and shops shuttered.
The relative silence was pierced shortly before 5 p.m. by gunshots and at least three large explosions.
Soon after, men could be seen on the roof of the building where the Kouachi brothers had holed up, and four helicopters, including a medical helicopter, landed nearby.
Then came the word that the brothers were dead and that their lone hostage, a man, was safe, said Bernard Corneille, the mayor of nearby Othis.
That spurred Dammartin-en-Goele Mayor Michel Dutruge, as he told France Info radio, to breathe “a big sigh of relief.”
Hostages at kosher grocery store
Meanwhile, in a very different sectting near Paris’s Porte de Vincennes about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, a similar crisis was playing out at a kosher grocery store.
That’s where Amedy Coulibaly — the same man who, authorities said, is suspected with Boumeddiene of killing a policewoman Thursday in Montrouge south of Paris — went Friday, taking a number of hostages of his own.
Like Cherif Kouachi, a man claiming to be Coulibaly called BFMTV on Friday. At the scene, witnesses heard Coulibaly demand freedom for the Kouachi brothers, according to police union spokesman Pascal Disand.
Law enforcement swarmed the area. Dozens of schools went on lockdown. And people waited for a resolution.
It came a few minutes after the Dammartin-en-Goele climax, in the form of explosions and gunfire, then the sight of up to 20 heavily armed police officers moving into the store. They came out with a number of civilians.
But not everyone made it. Hollande said four people were killed, though it wasn’t immediately known if that number includes Coulibaly. Israeli government sources said that Hollande told Netanyahu that four hostages were killed and 15 were rescued.
Meanwhile, Boumeddiene remains on the loose.
Father: ‘It’s like a war’
In a nationally televised speech Friday night, Hollande called the Porte de Vincennes deaths an “anti-Semitic” act.
He urged his countrymen not to respond with violence against Muslims, saying, “Those who committed these acts have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.”
“Unity is our best weapon,” Hollande said.
That kind of military language is apt when you’re talking about two deadly attacks and two hostage-takings in a few days.
It’s something that a man, who asked to be called simply Teddy, understands. He was outside Henri Dunant elementary school in Dammartin-en-Goele on Friday, hoping to pick up his young son.
And, eventually, the students did leave the school — accompanied by police officers who held their hands as they guided and, in some cases, lifted them onto an awaiting bus that would take them to safety.
“It’s like a war,” Teddy said. “I don’t know how I will explain this to my 5-year-old son.”
Parts of France on high alert
This “war” erupted two days ago, when a pair of heavily armed men — hooded and dressed in black — entered the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine known for its provocative, often profane, sometimes controversial take on religion, politics and most anything else.
They burst into a meeting, called out individuals, and then executed them. The dead included editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier and four other well-known cartoonists known by the pen names: Cabu, Wolinski, Honore and Tignous.
Authorities followed a lead Thursday morning from a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Dammartin-en-Goele, whom Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, reportedly threatened as they stole food and gas. Police think the brothers may have later fled on foot into nearby woods.
Northern France’s Picardy region was the focal point of the manhunt, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls put it on the same, highest-possible alert level as has been in place since Wednesday in and around Paris.
Police spying down with night vision optics from helicopters said they thought they caught a glimpse of them Thursday near Crepy-en-Valois, France — not far from the reported robbery.
That town and the gas station border a patch of woods, and on another side of the forest, 30 to 40 police vehicles swarmed out from the town of Longpont.
Squads of officers armed with rifles — some also in helmets and with shields — canvassed fields and forest.
They didn’t find the Kouachi brothers there. Instead, somehow, they moved to Dammartin-en-Goele.
Ties to Islamist extremists
As these two moved, the French government — including more than 80,000 police deployed across the country — also didn’t stand still.
Some of them tried to prevent more bloodshed, which might have something to do with nine people detained after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Investigators also dug to learn about the attackers.
Both men had ties to Islamist extremists.
Said, the elder of the Kouachi brothers, spent several months in Yemen in 2011, receiving weapons training and working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to U.S. officials.
His younger brother, Cherif, has a long history of jihad and anti-Semitism, according to documents. In a 400-page court record, he is described as wanting to go to Iraq through Syria “to go and combat the Americans.”
“I was ready to go and die in battle,” he said in a deposition. “… I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television. … I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.”
And Cherif is a close associate of Coulibaly, the suspect in Thursday’s police shooting in Montrouge and the man behind the eastern Paris grocery store siege, a Western intelligence source said.
Both men were involved in a 2010 attempt to free an Algerian incarcerated for a 1995 subway bombing. Coulibaly was arrested with 240 rounds of ammunition for a Kalashnikov rifle and a photo of Djamel Beghal, a French Algerian once known as al Qaeda’s premier European recruiter.
The Western intelligence source said that Coulibaly lived with Boumeddiene, his alleged accomplice in the police shooting, and that the two traveled to Malaysia together.
Charlie Hebdo columnist: ‘They didn’t want us to be quiet’
France, as a nation, appears to be invigorated by all of it — joined by others worldwide who’ve rallied around the country and, especially, Charlie Hebdo magazine.
A unity rally will be held Sunday “celebrating the values behind” Charlie Hebdo, said British Prime Minister David Cameron, who will travel to Paris to attend.
And the magazine itself — whose former offices were firebombed in 2011, on the day it was to publish an issue poking fun at Islamic law and after it published a cartoon of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed — will go on as well, even without its leader and most talented staffers. It’s set to publish thousands of copies of its latest edition next Wednesday.
Patrick Pelloux, a columnist for the magazine, said that “I don’t know if I’m afraid anymore, because I’ve seen fear. I was scared for my friends, and they are dead.”
Instead, he and many others are defiant.
“I know that they didn’t want us to be quiet,” Pelloux said of the slain Charlie Hebdo staffers. “They wanted us to continue to fight for these values, cultural pluralism, democracy and secularism, the respect of others. They would be assassinated twice, if we remained silent.”