PARIS — Two separate hostage standoffs in France came to a violent end Friday, with the main suspects involved in the murder of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed.
French police are now saying that four people, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada, were killed in the kosher supermarket attack that took place on Friday. A man, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, stormed the market at Porte de Vincennes in Paris armed with a machine gun, hours before the start of Shabbat, killing four and holding others hostage. The attack lasted four hours and ended when Coulibaly was gunned down by police. The remaining hostages were then freed and four policemen were injured.
Hayat Boumediene, the suspected accomplice and wife of Coulibaly, is being sought by French police who fear other terrorist attacks will hit Paris within the next few days.
Meanwhile, the two main suspects in the Charlie Hebdo murders, Cherif and Said Kouachi, held one man hostage at a printing company in Dammartin-en-Goele, 22 miles northeast of Paris. After gunfire at the site was heard, police reported that the suspects were killed and the hostage freed. One policeman was seriously injured.
While he was holed up in the factory, Cherif Kouachi gave a phone interview to local news channel BFMTV and declared that he had been sent by Al-Qaeda in Yemen and financially backed by leading Al Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki before Al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September 2011.
“We’re telling you we are the prophet’s defenders, peace and blessings be upon him, and that I, Cherif Kouachi, was sent by Yemen’s Al-Qaeda,” the shooter said, according to NBC News’ interview transcript.
A member of Al-Qaeda also told the Associated Press it “directed the operations and (chose) their target carefully.”
The gunman at the grocery, Coulibaly, is also the alleged killer of a policewoman in Montrouge, a suburb located in the southern area of Paris.
Reports have now stated that Coulibaly, Boumediene and Cherif Kouachi had been coordinating the attack together under Al-Qaeda’s command. Liked Kouachi, Coulibaly phoned up BFMTV to claim that he had attacked the Kosher store because he wanted to “defend Palestinians and target Jews.” According to reports, police also discovered that Cherif Kouachi had met Coulibaly in prison. The two men met again to visit a jihadist named Djamel Beghal in 2010.
Schools in the surrounding area of the kosher store, which has a significant Jewish population, were on lockdown. Thousands of armed police officers were deployed at both sites.
The kosher supermarket attack is the latest in a series of high-profile hate crimes perpetrated over the last 10 years in France, where anti-Semitism and anti-Islam sentiment are rampant. Recent anti-Semitic crimes that received intense media exposure include Mohammed Merah’s killing of four adults and three children in front of a Jewish school in the South of France in 2012. Another involved the torture and execution of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year old Jewish man, by Youssouf Fofana and his self-proclaimed Gang of Barbarians. French media have pointed out that this contemporary breed of anti-Semitism stems for the most part from anti-Zionism rather than a traditional racist ideology.
This rise of anti-Islam sentiment and anti-Semitism in France has fueled the popularity of Marine LePen’s far-right party. However, a large segment of the French population, particularly in big cities, remain wary of LePen’s climbing political status. Indeed, the far-right party was officially “not invited” to participate in Sunday’s demonstration in homage to Charlie Hebdo victims.
Global news channels reported live from both sites on Friday, with constant updates drawing on social media, terrorism experts and newswire reports. The non-stop coverage is expected to continue throughout the weekend as police keeps searching for Boumediene.
As French authorities sought to keep media away from the immediate vicinity of the sieges, and limit information on the hold-ups, coverage by the news channels on Friday emphasized the difficulties of real-time coverage. At one point, some news outlets suggested there had not been fatalities at the grocery. Another example: An armed incident was reported in the Trocadero area near the Eiffel Tower, which then proved to be a false alarm.
In Spain, news coverage on national networks cut away from reports from Paris to the impact of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter on Spain. Telecinco, Spain’s most-watched channel, cut to Spanish police operations — arrests of possible jihadists in Melilla and Ceuta in Northern Africa, and the creation of police checkpoints along major thoroughfares — as Spain raised the counterterrorist alert level by a notch.
Spain has seen 2,000 terrorist attacks over the last 50 years. But the Charlie Hebdo slaughter is impacting security operations over all Europe, and represents a challenge to press freedoms as well as human life. That explains in part the intensity of ongoing news coverage.
In Italy, coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the ensuing manhunt are deepening the divide between the reporting capabilities of pubcaster RAI and the country’s private stations, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox. While private broadcasters are providing reactive state-of-the-art live coverage, RAI has come under fire for fumbling and failing to alter its primetime programming schedule to provide breaking news, especially on Wednesday, when the attack took place and the story first broke.
“For Europe’s most tragic terrorist tragedy in years, which created commotion all over the world, Italian TV viewers would have deserved more adequate coverage,” lamented leftist Italo pol Lorenza Bonaccorsi, who is a member of the parliamentary committee that oversees the mammoth pubcaster.
“It’s in instances like these that public service must make a difference to justify the almost €2 billion ($2.3 billion) that Italian citizens pay every year (in license fees),” Bonaccorsi added.
The two main U.K. news channels — BBC News and Sky News — have been reporting live from both sites with additional material from experts and social-media postings from people in Paris.
John Hopewell and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.