An additional 500 troops are being deployed in Paris as police continue to hunt for accomplices of the gunmen responsible for three days of terror attacks in the French capital that left 17 dead.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that all necessary security measures would be taken after police ended a double hostage crisis in the city by killing three of the perpetrators, including two brothers suspected to have been behind the Wednesday Charlie Hebdo massacre. Speaking after an emergency meeting Saturday, Cazeneuve said that the country would be on the highest state of alert for weeks.
Silent solidarity marches have been held across the country to pay tribute to the victims, including in Toulouse, Nice, and Nantes. A huge unity rally will be held Sunday in Paris, at which Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the French people would "cry out their love of liberty." Attendees are expected to include UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The attacks began Wednesday when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the central Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo armed with automatic weapons and shot 12 dead including the magazine's editor, three cartoonists, and two police officers. It was the worst terrorist act committed on French soil in decades.
The Kouachi brothers then fled the capital by car, sparking a massive manhunt that the government said involved 88,000 security personnel, including police, border agents, members of the gendarmarie, and troops. The search eventually concentrated on the Aisne region, northeast of Paris, after the two men were spotted at a gas station in the area on Thursday. Before dawn the following day, reports emerged of a developing hostage situation at the facilities of the Création Tendance Découverte (CTD) in an industrial zone of Dammartin-en-Goele, a commune 22 miles north of Paris. Police later killed both brothers when they emerged from the building firing their weapons. A civilian who had been hiding in the building emerged unharmed. A police officer was injured in the attack.
Around the same time, security forces raided a Hypercacher kosher supermarket in the southeastern Parisian suburb of Vincennes, where Amedy Coulibaly, another gunman, had killed four people and held several hostages. Coulibaly was killed in the assault, while four hostages and two police officers were wounded, according to the Associated Press. An additional 15 hostages were escorted from the scene unharmed.
Authorities storm the Hypercacher kosher supermarket.
Both crises unfolded simultaneously across the Paris region Friday. Before dawn, the Kouachi brothers — reported to be armed with automatic weapons and a "rocket launcher" — stole a car in Montagny-Sainte-Felicite, seven miles of north of Dammartin-en-Goele. They were subsequently pursued by, and exchanged fire with, police and holed up in the CTD building, where they took and released a hostage. Another employee was trapped on the premises unknown to the brothers.
An enormous police presence immediately locked down the area after the car chase, with huge numbers of armed police deployed and a number of helicopters periodically circling overhead despite harsh weather conditions and poor visibility. Police vehicles were still arriving from Paris in the early afternoon.
Access roads to Dammartin-en-Goële were blocked some distance from the commune, and local residents, prevented from reaching their homes by checkpoints, milled around in stunned disbelief. Trucks that had been headed to the industrial complex where the CTD facility is located filled the parking lots of nearby gas stations.
Photos by John Beck
One delivery driver who had been scheduled to drop off goods at a supermarket depot close to the hostage site told VICE News that he was worried for the workers and management in the industrial park, who he expected were there when the crisis began.
"It's terrible what happened," he said. "They were just people going to work, and now some are hostages."
Onlookers included two young men from the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois around 15 miles away, who told VICE News that they were Muslims and had traveled to Dammartin-en-Goële in the hope of talking with the two suspects and convincing them to stop.
"We want to tell them that the path of Islam we take is separate from theirs and that they do not have the right to do this. All they do is create hate," one said.
The dozens of TV crews who descended on the area, however, were relegated to standing on a roundabout with their cameras trained on the village while police began to allow some local residents back into the area.
Photos by John Beck
But at 5pm local time, gunfire along with a number of explosions was heard from the direction of the warehouse and black smoke was seen rising into the air. Dozens of ambulances and fire trucks sped towards the scene in the aftermath.
When news of the operation's conclusion began to circulate, however, cars passing on the nearby freeway honked their horns in celebration.
The mood in Vincennes was somber, however.
Coulibaly, who is also thought to be responsible for the murder of a policewoman on Thursday, stormed the supermarket on Friday afternoon, killing four people. He threatened that more hostages would die if an attempt was made to capture the Kouchi brothers, according to a number of reports.
Before police moved on Coulibaly, VICE News spoke with a man who gave his name as Jonathan that said that his cousin, a woman, was among those trapped in the supermarket. He described how she had remained hidden behind some cardboard boxes when Coulibaly arrived, and had been driven to Hypercacher by her brother, who subsequently raised the alarm.
"She was dropped at the supermarket by her brother who went to park the car. He saw the guys coming in with guns and all and hid and made calls to give the alert," he said.
After the raid took place and Coulibaly had been killed, France, a young Muslim woman at the scene, told VICE News that local residents had fled the area after Coulibaly began shooting, adding that both his and the Kouchi's deaths in the police assaults went some way to bringing them to justice. "Even if I would have preferred that they go to prison to suffer more, I think to myself that in a way, Charlie is a bit avenged."
Security forces are still hunting for Coulibaly's partner, Hayat Boumeddiene, who is reported to have been with Coulibaly when he killed the policewoman on Thursday. Police have warned that she is likely to be armed and should be considered dangerous.
French news channel BFMTV reported that it was able to speak with both Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Koulibali while the hostage situations unfolded.
Coulibaly called French news channel BFMTV from the supermarket and said that he had "synchronized" operations with the Kouchi brothers. He also claimed to have received instructions directly from the Islamic State, the armed extremist group that operates in Iraq and Syria, and said his actions were intended to defend oppressed Muslims. Hypercacher was targeted, he says, because it was Jewish.
Chérif Kouachi also called spoke with BFMTV from the CTD building and said he had received instructions from al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate and funding from deceased al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. He went on to describe the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack as targets, not civilians.
French President François Hollande addressed the nation after the sieges were broken on Friday and expressed his condolences to the families of those who had been killed in the attack, adding that the French people had confronted their enemies as one.
"When the country overcomes an ordeal it is a tragedy for the nation and we are obligated to face up to it," a visibly moved Hollande said from the presidential palace in Paris.
He went on to praise the security forces who led the assaults in Vincennes and Dammartin-en-Goele, but warned that it was essential to remain vigilant in the future: "Even though France faced up to this, and knows that it can rely on its security forces, on these men and women capable of courage and bravery, France is not done with threats targeting the country. So I want to appeal to your watchfulness and your unity."
Additional reporting by Justine Martin and VICE News' Étienne Rouillon
Photo by Étienne Rouillon