Accessibility links

Dual Hostage Dramas Unfolding in France

  • Lisa Bryant
  • VOA News

French gendarmes block access to the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, France, on Jan. 9, 2015.

French gendarmes block access to the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, France, on Jan. 9, 2015.

A guman has taken several hostages at a kosher supermaket in Paris, even as French security forces closed in on a town north of the city where the two main suspects in the Charlie Hebdo killings are holed up and holding a hostage.

A police official on Friday said the gunman at the supermarket, 32-year-old Amedy Coulabaly, is believed to be the same man who shot and killed a policewoman south of Paris on Thursday. Authorities also are seeking a woman described as his accomplice, Hayet Boumddiene.

Police sources have linked Coulabaly to Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers who are suspected of killing 12 people in the Charlie Hebdo attack on Wednesday. It was the country's worst terrorist attack in a decade.

Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi are shown in photos released by the Paris Préfecture de Police.

Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi are shown in photos released by the Paris Préfecture de Police.

French security forces say they are in contact with the brothers, who have at least one hostage with them. They are holed up in a warehouse in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, 40 kilometers northeast of Paris.

With helicopters circling overhead and police vans and fire vehicles filling the streets, the town's mayor warned residents to stay indoors. The town is not far from Charles DeGaulle international airport.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said early Friday that a security operation was under way but he offered no details.

Map of Paris showing Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes

Map of Paris showing Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes

In Thursday's shooting, a policewoman was gunned down while responding to a traffic accident in the Montrouge area just south of the capital.

More than 88,000 police and security forces have been searching for the brothers. A third suspect in the Charlie Hebdo shootings, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, surrendered to police on Wednesday. His connection to the gunmen remains unclear.

Nine people have been taken into custody for questioning about their possible knowledge of the deadly attack.

"Right now, we have to do everything to ensure the protection of our citizens," French President Francois Holland told government officials at a meeting Friday at the Interior Ministry in Paris, Reuters reported.

Live video: Coverage from France 24

Radical Islamist ties

Both Kouachi brothers have links with radical Islam. Said, 34, received terrorist training in Yemen in 2011, The New York Times reported. Cherif, 32, is a former rapper who served prison time for his involvement in a Paris terrorist cell.

Hundreds of French nationals have headed to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist fighters.

Both brothers appear to have been radicalized for some time, unlike other recent French jihadists, according to Franck Fregosi, a political scientist and expert on Islam.

Fregosi said the brothers' radicalization reflects a new trend, a sort of family event in which brothers and sisters may jointly turn to radical Islam.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right National Front party, on Friday insisted the country must fight Islamic fundamentalism.

According to The Associated Press, she said Hollande had “assured me that a profound debate on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in our country will take place and that all the political parties will be listened to” regarding steps “to ensure the security of the country and our people."

Charlie Hebdo continues

Also Friday, the French newspaper Liberation made room for the surviving Charlie Hebdo journalists to prepare the satirical weekly’s next edition, due out Wednesday. The newspaper plans to print 1 million copies, 30 times its regular run.

The Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists have returned under heavy police protection, Reuters said.

"Since a long time, Charlie Hebdo and Liberation are seen, are like brothers. It's like a fraternity," Liberation editor Pierre Fraidenraich said. His paper had welcomed Charlie Hebdo staff after the newspaper was fire-bombed in 2011.

Fraidenraich said his newspaper would host the Charlie Hebdo team for "all the time they want."

Grieving for victims

Meanwhile, mourning continues for those killed at the satirical magazine – known for making fun of all religions, including Islam – and for two policemen who were among the dead.

Parisians stood in silence in a chilly rain Thursday, holding up pens and pencils as a sign of the right to free speech. The lights of the Eiffel Tower dimmed Thursday night to honor the victims.

The U.N. Security Council held a moment of silence before Thursday's meeting.

President Barack Obama signed a book of condolence at the French embassy in Washington. He called the killings cowardly and evil.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters. VOA’s Peter Vaselopulos contributed to this report from near Dammartin-en-Goële.