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Twin hostage dramas grip France

Gunman kill 2, seize five others at Jewish supermarket; police corner brothers

TAKING COVER: French special forces evacuating residents of Saint-Mande, in eastern Paris, after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store on Friday.


FRANCE grappled with two hostage dramas on Friday after a gunman killed two people and seized five others at a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris, as police cornered the brothers suspected of carrying out the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Heavily armed police swarmed the area around the supermarket in Porte de Vincennes as the surrounding neighbourhood was placed under lockdown.

A source close to the investigation said the hostage taker was suspected of gunning down a policewoman in southern Paris on Thursday and knew one of the brothers accused in the killing of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

French police released mugshots of the man, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, as well as of a woman named as 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, also wanted over the shooting of the policewoman.

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Both are considered "armed and dangerous", police said.

The Porte de Vincennes area in eastern Paris was swamped with police who shut down the city's ringroad as well as schools and shops in the area.

Residents were ordered to stay indoors.

"There are at least two dead. Maybe more but for the moment, we don't know," said a source close to the investigation.

Meanwhile, in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, only 12 kilometres from Paris' main Charles de Gaulle airport, French elite forces deployed snipers on roofs and helicopters buzzed low over a small printing business where the Charlie Hebdo suspects were holed up with a hostage. Police sources said there was a "connection" between the supermarket gunman and the Algerian-origin brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, accused of carrying out France's bloodiest massacre in half a century at Charlie Hebdo.

The massive manhunt for the two men appeared to be approaching a dramatic climax at press time as security forces laid siege to the CDT printing business in Dammartin-en-Goele.

Ahead of the stand-off, police had already exchanged fire with the pair in a high-speed car chase.

Schools in the area were evacuated and residents barricaded themselves indoors as the standoff with police unfolded.

Prior to the standoff, the suspects had hijacked a car from a woman who said she recognised the brothers.

President Francois Hollande rushed to a meeting to be briefed on the situation as Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that France was at "war" with terrorism, but "not in a war against religion".

The spectacular attacks came as more details about the brothers emerged. A senior US administration official told AFP that one of the two was believed to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, while another source said that the pair had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

The brothers were both flagged in a US database as terror suspects, and also on the no-fly list, meaning they were barred from flying into the United States, the officials said.

As fears spread in the wake of the attack, the head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 warned that militants were planning other "mass casualty attacks against the West" and that intelligence services may be powerless to stop them.

Meanwhile, as a politically divided and crisis-hit France sought to pull together in the wake of the twin tragedies, the head of the country's Muslim community - the largest in Europe - urged imams to condemn terrorism at Friday prayers. AFP

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