French police launched simultaneous raids against jihadists who were holding hostages in two separate locations near Paris, France. The two suspects in the massacre at Charlie Habdo magazine and a third accomplice who is thought to have executed a policewoman in Paris were killed by police officers as they stormed a print shop and a Jewish grocery where the jihadists were holding hostages, Le Monde reported.
Cherif and Said Kouachi, the two brothers believed to be the gunmen in the Charlie Habdo attack, were cornered by police inside a printing shop in the industrial section of Dammartin-en-Goele, located about 20 km northeast of Paris, and took one or more hostages. A third man, who police have identified as Amedi Coulibalay, took several hostages at a kosher grocery in Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris.
Police had issued a wanted notice and photographs of Coulibalay and his girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene. On Thursday morning, a gunman armed with an AK-47 and wearing a bullet-proof vest, now said to be Coulibalay, shot two police officers in Monrouge area of Paris. The shooter fled and a female police officer later died of her wounds.
Police surrounded the Kouachi brothers after an intense manhunt. Helicopters are reported to have spotted the pair enter some woods in the Picardy region on foot Thursday. The suspects also stole gas and food from a gas station in the town of Villers-Cotteret, threatening an employee who reported their location to police. Sometime after 9 a.m. this morning, it was reported the two fugitives hijacked a car in the town of Montagny-Sainte-Felicite before fleeing north toward their current location.
One initial suspect in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Hamyd Mourad, turned himself into police on Wednesday night but claimed an alibi. Mourad has not been charged and has since been released. Police had also conducted a series of raids in Paris on Wednesday, resulting in no confirmed arrests.
Links to known jihadists, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula reported
Reports have emerged that the Paris killers and hostage takers have ties to known jihadists and terrorist groups.
US intelligence officials have said that Said Kouachi is believed to have traveled Yemen in 2011 and may have attended a training camp run by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. During the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office, the brothers were heard saying that the attack was executed by “al Qaeda in Yemen,” or AQAP.
Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 on terror-related charges for his role in a recruiting network funneled fighters to al Qaeda in Iraq, and sentenced to three years in prison.
Coulibalay was convicted in 2010 of plotting to free Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for executing a series of bombings in Paris in 1995. Belkacem was a member of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, or GIA.
Both Coulibalay and Cherif Kouachi “were two of the main disciples Djamel Beghal,” according to Le Monde. Beghal visited Osama bin Laden’s headquarters in the summer of 2001, met with Abu Zubayda, and agreed to attack the US Embassy as well as a US cultural centre in Paris.