A man believed to have been the suspect in yesterday’s shooting of unarmed policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe yesterday has taken women and children hostage at a kosher grocery store in the eastern Parisian district of Porte de Vincennes.
Even as the French police cornered the terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a hostage drama ensued, a second hostage crisis is developing.
Upon first reports of the incident, the French authorities initially claimed it did not appear to be connected to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Now, however, police are typing the two events together. Little was known about the killer except that he wore a bulletproof vest, reportedly used a fairly heavy weapon in the assault, and was described by eyewitnesses as being of “North African” extraction. He is now believed to be part of the same jihadi cell as the Kourachi brothers, perpetrators of the magazine massacre.
The gunman is believed to be keeping at least five hostages, said to be women and children who were shopping at the store when he burst in. He’s said to be armed with two AK-47 rifles. There was reportedly a shooting at the beginning of the standoff, possibly more than one. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is on the scene; he also paid a visit to the scene of the policewoman’s murder yesterday. Newsweek reports that French President Francois Hollande is monitoring both this hostage situation and the standoff with the Kourachi brothers from a situation room.
The UK Daily Mail reports that the gunman in the grocery store has demanded the freedom of the Kourachi brothers as the price for releasing his own hostages. The Daily Mail relayed some biographical details, indicating that authorities have background information on the gunman:
The murderer, who is in his 30s, has been identified by police who said he belonged to the Buttes Chaumont network, which sent Jihadi fighters to Iraq.
‘He was in the same Buttes Chaumount cell as the Kouachi brothers,’ said a source close to the investigation. ‘He was friends of both of them.’
Two of the Montrouge gunman’s relatives were arrested in nearby Grigny during a police raid this morning.
Like the Kouchis, he is known to have been radicalised by an Islamic preacher in Paris, before expressing a wish to fight in Iraq or Syria.
Both men – who are currently surrounded in a building north of Paris – were first arrested in 2005.
They were suspected members of the Buttes Chaumont – a group operating out of the 19th arrondissement of Paris and sending terrorist fighters to Iraq.
Cherif was convicted in 2008 to three years in prison, with 18 months suspended, for his association with the underground organisation.
He had wanted to fly to Iraq via Syria, and was found with a manual for a Kalashnikov – the automatic weapon used in Wednesday’s attack.
Said was freed after questioning by police, but – like his brother – was known to have been radicalised after the Iraq War of 2003, when Anglo-American forces deposed Saddam Hussein.
Both brothers were said to be infuriated by the killing of Muslims by western soldiers and war planes.
France24 says the Kourachi brothers, and their comrade at the kosher grocery, were radicalized according to a “familiar” pattern:
In March 2008, Cherif Kouachi appeared in a Paris court where a trial into a domestic jihadist network was underway.
Dressed in tracksuits and sneakers, Kouachi and six other defendants were charged with involvement in what was known as the Buttes Chaumont network, named after the northern Paris neighbourhood where the members were based.
The network was made up of petty criminals, mainly of Muslim origin, who were influenced by Islamic preachers and urged to train to join the jihad against US forces then in Iraq.
A report on the court proceedings in the leading French daily Le Monde at that time describes Kouachi as an athletically built 25-year-old with a square jaw and mid-length hair. Looking relaxed in court, Kouachi is reported to have told the judge, “I was a delinquent before. But after I got in shape, I thought I could not even be killed.”
As early as last September, it was believed that up to 3,000 European citizens had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, many of them young men, and most from France, Belgium, and the UK.