IT WAS a bloody resolution to the worst spate of terror attacks in France since 1961, which had the country living in fear as gunmen roamed the French streets and countryside for three days.
But as two hostage stand-offs were last night brought to an end by French commandos, up to two suspects remained on the run in Paris.
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Three gunmen who had terrorised France since Wednesday morning’s attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed in two operations by security forces.
Four hostages held at a kosher supermarket in Paris died in one operation, along with the gunman, which saw an estimated 11 other hostages freed.
At a warehouse in a village to the north-east of the capital, another hostage held by the two brothers suspected of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Cherif and Said Kouachi, escaped and was taken to safety. The terrorists were shot dead.
Last night, however, a suspect wanted in connection with the murder of a policewoman on Thursday, the 26-year-old girlfriend of the supermarket gunman Amady Coulibaly, remained at large. It is not yet known if she had any involvement in the supermarket siege. Unconfirmed reports last night suggested a fourth male suspect – an accomplice of the supermarket gunman – had escaped in the confusion as hostages ran away.
In total, all the incidents since Wednesday morning left 20 people dead – including three gunmen and three police officers – and many more hurt.
Tens of thousands of officers from France’s security forces spent 48 hours combing the country in search of the Kouachi brothers, after they attacked an editorial meeting of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 and injuring 11.
The pair, who had links to Islamic extremist groups and were previously known to police, were surrounded by armed officers yesterday morning as they took refuge in a small printworks in the northern town of Dammartin-en-Goele, close to Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport.
They were holding one hostage, believed to be the 26-year-old manager of the business.
As the stand-off continued, a group of shoppers at a kosher supermarket in the Paris suburb of Porte de Vincennes were taken hostage by a third gunman, Coulibaly.
He had killed trainee policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe in a random attack as she attended a road traffic accident early on Thursday morning. He was believed to be an associate of the Kouachi brothers.
At the printworks, onlookers described a tense build-up yesterday afternoon as anti-terror squads, special combat forces and balaclava-clad officers began to flood the scene.
Shortly afterwards, explosions and gunshots were heard and white smoke rose from the site. Reports say the brothers, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers, had come out firing on security forces but were quickly killed.
About 15 minutes later, reports began to emerge of gunfire at the stand-off 25 miles away at a Hypercacher supermarket.
Shortly before the building was stormed, Coulibaly had threatened to kill his hostages if French authorities launched an assault on the two brothers.
Photos emerged of hostages, including at least one child, being led to safety by police, but four people died, and at least four others, including two policemen, were injured.
Earlier, police had issued a photograph of Coulibaly, warning he was “armed and dangerous” and wanted over the death of Ms Jean-Philippe.
However, the whereabouts of Hayat Boumeddiene, his girlfriend who is also wanted over the policewoman’s murder, was last night still not known.
Residents were evacuated from the area around the supermarket yesterday afternoon, while schools nearby with about 100 students inside were in lockdown and the motorway that circles Paris was closed. In a separate area, the Marais, a traditionally Jewish area of the city in the centre of the tourist district, police instructed shopkeepers to close their doors.
Witnesses said the gunman had burst in shooting, just a few hours before the Jewish Sabbath began, declaring: “You know who I am.”
The Kouachi brothers had been tracked to the Creation Tendance Decouverte printworks after police spent Thursday night scouring a forest in a nearby town. They had fled north from France’s capital after carrying out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, hijacking a car and robbing a service station.
The manhunt was among the biggest ever seen in France. Helicopters hovered above the town, while two runways at Charles de Gaulle airport were closed to arrivals to avoid interfering in the stand-off.
“They said they want to die as martyrs,” Yves Albarello, a local politician said on television.
Cherif Kouachi, 32, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for ties to a network sending jihadis to fight US forces in Iraq. A Yemeni security official said his 34-year-old brother, Said, was suspected of having fought for al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The pair were first named as the chief suspects after one of them apparently left Said’s identity card behind in an abandoned getaway car.
It also emerged yesterday that the Kouachi brothers had been on a UK “to watch” list and would have been denied entry into the country.
Global support continued to pour in for France as thousands of people posted “Je suis Charlie” on social media sites and carried banners, pens and candles at vigils.
A second slogan, paying tribute to Ahmed Merabet, the policeman who died in the attack on the magazine, also emerged, with people pointing to his bravery in defending freedom of speech – despite Charlie Hebdo mocking the Muslim faith.
“I am not Charlie. I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #jesuisahmed,” users wrote on Facebook and Twitter.
French president François Hollande addressed the nation, calling on them to be “vigilant”.
“Make sure that we can live quietly without at any time being the object of the threat of a risk. However, we have to be vigilant.
“I ask you to remain united –it’s our best weapon.”
Last night, Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders announced plans to join Mr Hollande at a unity rally in Paris tomorrow.
This week’s attacks are believed to be the deadliest in France since 1961, when right-wingers who wanted to keep Algeria French bombed a train, killing 28 people.
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