French detectives are continuing to search for fugitives suspected to have been involved in the Paris massacres, as details of how police foiled the terrorists’ operations have begun to unfold.
One man hid out of the view of killer brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and relayed secret information to police before they stormed the bolt hole as the three-day manhunt reached a dramatic conclusion.
Across Paris, armed police poised outside a Jewish supermarket seized upon the moment terrorist Amedy Coulibaly knelt down for evening prayers to pile into the building and free the hostages.
There were 19 men, women and children inside the store when Coulibaly, 32, entered, and he killed four people immediately.
Police later stormed the building in a volley of rapid fire and smoke, killing the terrorist as he attempted to flee, and freeing 15 hostages.
Prosecutors last night confirmed the authorities were still searching for Coulibaly’s girlfriend accomplice, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, who is believed to be on the run.
She is also thought to be involved in the murder of a female police officer south of Paris on Thursday morning – the third police fatality since the slaughters began, following the death of two officers responding to the Charlie Hebdo shooting on Wednesday.
Prosecutor last night Francois Molins said Coulibaly and his girlfriend spoke with the Kouachi brothers “500 times” over the telephone.
Officers secretly listened in to the situation at the Hyper Cacher kosher store in Porte de Vincennes, in the east of the capital, after the hostage-taker apparently failed to hang up properly when making demands by telephone to specialist officers.
Mr Molins also told how an employee at the printing works where the Kouachi brothers were in Dammartin-en-Goele was hiding on the second floor underneath a sink. The brothers did not realise there was another person hiding in the warehouse.
Last night French President Francois Hollande called on the country to “remain vigilant” as the hostage crisis which started at the Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre came to a bloody end with the loss of at least 20 lives.
As France came to terms with a tragedy that rocked the nation, Mr Hollande said in an address: “I call you all to be vigilant, to remain united and remain mobilised. Vigilance is something the state must demonstrate.
“I ask you to remain united – it’s our best weapon. It shows we are determined to fight against anything that can divide us.”
A number of international dignitaries, including Prime Minister David Cameron, are expected to arrive in Paris this weekend for tomorrow’s unity rally.
Dramatic footage from the Kouachis’ and Coulibaly’s final moments were played out on television screens yesterday afternoon.
The first rescue attempt, in Dammartin, showed flashes of light accompanying the rapid gunfire in dramatic scenes which last for about 10 seconds.
Minutes before the explosions, balaclava-clad officers were seen moving towards the building.
Less than 15 minutes later, six loud and very quick explosions were heard at the kosher supermarket.
Ambulances and fire engines could be seen rushing to the scene in Paris following a rapid exchange of gunfire.
In what would become one of the most poignant images of the three-day massacre, grief-stricken hostages, including children, were seen huddled together and being led quickly to safety as members of the public and media were urged to move back. Another was carried in a fireman’s lift following the four-and-a-half-hour ordeal.
The Kouachi brothers started the killing spree on Wednesday morning when they attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
It is understood that the duo, who were well-known for holding jihadist views, were on a British watch and no-fly list to prevent them from entering the UK or passing through a British airport.
They left a trail of dead bodies in their wake, include three Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and its editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb.
Several people, including police officers, remain in hospital following the shootings across the French capital and its surroundings, at the hands of the Kouachis, Coulibaly and any associates.
The Kouachis stole a Peugeot yesterday morning in the town of Montagny Sainte Felicite, triggering a car chase during which gunfire was reported and Said was injured.
Before they were killed, they were said to have declared they want to die “as martyrs”.
A salesman told how he inadvertently shook the hand of one of the terrorists when he arrived for a meeting with the owner of the printing firm this morning, whose name he gave as Michel.
The eyewitness, named as Didier, told radio station France Info that he encountered a “heavily armed” man dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest.
He said: “I encountered a terrorist and shook his hand. (The armed man) said to me ’I am the police. Go, we do not kill civilians’.
“I decided to call the police. I guess that was one of the terrorists.
“They were heavily armed. I was in front of the business, I shook Michel’s hand and the hand of one of the terrorists. After I left, Michel shut the gate behind me. I knew something was wrong. I have been very lucky this morning.”
A lockdown was imposed in the surrounding area as scores of heavily armed police surrounded the building.
Residents in the vicinity were warned to stay in their homes and children were being kept inside schools.