Gunfire erupted Friday afternoon at a business where the suspects in the terror attack on a newspaper’s Paris office were holed up northeast of the French capital, and police said the two men had been killed.
There was gunfire and heavy police activity around the town of Dammartin-en-Goële, about 30 miles northeast of Paris, Thursday morning as police cornered the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, French-Algerian brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.
They had taken one man hostage inside a printing business on an industrial estate in Dammartin, less than 10 miles to the northeast of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.
After hours of relative calm at the site, during which time police widened their security cordon around the industrial complex, automatic gunfire and at least a couple small explosions were heard. No details of the operation were immediately released, but French TV and the Associated Press reported that both of the Kouachi brothers were killed in a police raid and the one hostage rescued safely.
The gunfire lasted about 3 minutes and a small amount of smoke was seen coming from the top of the building afterward. A helicopter landed inside the security cordon after the shots. At least one member of the French security forces was reportedly injured in the raid.
“We are almost certain it is those two individuals holed up in that building,” Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said earlier on French television.
The printing business where the suspects were trapped has a small staff of only about five employees, including the owner and at least two relatives.
France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said only that an “ongoing operation” to apprehend the suspects was underway in Dammartin. Elite French troops and anti-terror police quickly swarmed into the area, and police were not allowing members of the media to enter the village.
French officials told the Associated Press that police had established phone contact with the Kouachi brothers, but there was never confirmation that negotiations were underway. One report said the men had refused to talk to police.
A U.S. Counterterrorism source told CBS News on Friday that officials did not expect the Kouachi brothers to give up. The feeling was that they had been avoiding capture and hoping to go down in a blaze of glory or escape to fight another day.
A French lawmaker told the AP earlier in the day that the men had told police they wanted to die as “martyrs.”
Police were methodically evacuating civilians from Dammartin, and schools in neighboring villages were also sending students home.
Meanwhile, a similar situation was unfolding after a shooting at a Jewish grocery store in the east of Paris. The incident in the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood came amid a manhunt for a gunman who fatally shot a police officer on Thursday morning just south of the capital in Montrouge.
The suspect, who shot the officer after a car crash and then fled on foot, was identified Friday by French police as Amedy Coulibaly, born in 1982. Police were also looking for his girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, in connection with the Thursday shooting.
Coulibaly was reportedly the same man inside the Paris grocery store on Friday, holding as many as five hostages. The Interior Ministry denied reports that two people had been fatally shot in the grocery store attack.
Four loud explosions at the scene in Porte de Vincennes — just minutes after the eruption of gunfire in Dammartin — suggested police had launched coordinated assaults on both sites.
At least two people were arrested in connection with the attack in Montrouge as of early Friday, but not the primary suspect.
Coulibaly is believed to be an acquaintance of the Kouachi brothers, and possibly a member of the same group rounded up in 2008 for recruiting jihadists to travel to Iraq.
French officials said there were no known deaths or injuries resulting from the gunfire Friday in Dammartin, either, and emergency officials there had not reported any casualties.
A man who claimed to have spoken to the suspects Friday morning told a French news outlet they appeared calm and told him to “go home,” adding that they did not intend to kill civilians. The man’s account could not be independently verified.
A communications officer at Dammartin’s city hall confirmed to CBS News that all residents had been asked to stay inside.
The Kouachis, in their early 30s and both with documented histories of jihadist activity, have been on the run since they allegedly killed 12 people in a massacre at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. They were raised in France.
Cherif Kouachi’s arrest in 2008 for recruiting fighters in France to travel to Iraq made him the more well-known of the two, but his older brother Said may actually have stronger ties to al Qaeda terrorists, CBS News’ Bob Orr reported Thursday.
U.S. sources said French investigators have evidence Said traveled to Yemen in 2011 and linked up with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the terror network’s affiliate based in the country. CBS News has been told Said “spent several months” in Yemen training with AQAP.
Multiple witnesses to the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office, and the man who had his car stolen by the brothers Friday morning, said the men had claimed an affiliation with AQAP.
During Said’s time in Yemen, AQAP’s terror operations were being run by the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Awlaki was the inspiration behind Nidal Hassan’s massacre at Fort Hood. Awlaki also led the failed attempts to hit the U.S. with bombs smuggled onto jetliners inside underwear and computer printers.
It’s not clear if Said had any direct dealings with Awlaki before returning to France in 2011. Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike on September 30th the same year.