Suspects in two terror attacks in Paris were killed in twin police raids today, ending three days of intense drama following the deadliest such assault in the country in half a century.
Seventeen people, including four hostages taken today at a kosher grocery, were killed by the suspected Islamist terrorists in three discrete yet connected incidents in the French capital. With shots fired in quiet Parisian streets, car chases and hostage-taking, the city was gripped by tension.
“We will come out of this stronger,” President Francois Hollande said in a televised address to the nation. “We are a free people that won’t give in to pressure, that isn’t afraid.”
The nearly simultaneous killings of brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, the suspects in the Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, and hostage-taker Amady Coulibaly bring relief to a country roiled by its deadliest terrorist attack since 1961.
The assaults created an environment of fear and sparked debates in France and Europe on security, identity and cultural values. The country has Europe’s largest proportion of Muslims, and the anti-immigration National Front party has gained in recent opinion polls.
The violence began this week when masked men armed with Kalashnikov rifles burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly, in central Paris. They killed 12 people before evading police to flee the city.
The following day, a policewoman was killed in Montrouge, a Paris suburb, in an incident police said was connected to the earlier attack. That was followed by today’s hostage-taking near the Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris at the Hyper Cacher store, where Jews were shopping before the start of the Sabbath. Coulibaly was suspected in both those incidents, police said.
“Until now we had only threats; now we’ve realized that these are real and present on our soil,” Jean-Louis Fiamenghi, a former head of France’s elite police assault force, said in an interview on i-Tele television.
At around 5 p.m. today in Dammartin-en-Goele, 26 miles northeast of central Paris, smoke rose from buildings and explosions could be heard as officers moved on the Kouachi brothers. The police had earlier sealed off the town and encircled the building where authorities believed they had fled.
Minutes later, four loud explosions and rapid gunfire were heard in Paris as police stormed the grocery.
Cherif Kouachi was known to police and intelligence services after spending time in prison for participating in a jihadist group.
While his brother Said didn’t have a criminal record, officials have intelligence that he may have attended a militant training camp in Yemen. He was expelled from the Arab country in 2012 along with other Islamist fighters, a senior Yemeni intelligence official said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Both men are French citizens of Algerian descent.
Coulibaly had known Cherif Kouachi since at least 2010, police said. They joined a plot to help a prison escape and spent time together in jail.
French politicians are stressing national unity in the wake of the attacks, with public “republican marches” scheduled across the country on Jan. 11.
Prime Minister David Cameron of the U.K. and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both plan to attend, as does Italian premier Matteo Renzi.
The attacks this week were collectively the deadliest terrorist strikes in France since the OAS group, which opposed France’s withdrawal from Algeria, killed 28 people in a 1961 train bombing.