Said and Cherif Kourachi – the brothers suspected of being behind Wednesday’s attack in Paris on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead – are trapped in their run across northeastern France.
After stealing a car, they have taken at least one hostage, a woman, and are in Dammartin-en-Goële, a rural community near Charles de Gaulle Airport, 25 miles northeast of Paris. They are hiding in a three-story printing plant within a large warehouse complex, with negotiations taking place between them and authorities.
It is being reported that the two brothers have announced that they want to die as martyrs. A siege is soon expected.
“We have signs of the presence of the terrorists, whom we want to stop,” French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters in Paris shortly after 9 a.m. He added that further operations would take place in “the coming hours, coming minutes.”
Romain Tamburrino, 20, woke up Friday morning in his village of Rouvre (pop. 700), about 25 miles from Paris, to hear strange sounds. “It was the five military helicopters circling overhead. You could hear them,” Tamburrino, who recently finished his degree in journalism,” he tells PEOPLE.
“At about 9 a.m. there were other witnesses who heard the gunshots. I didn’t, but others did,” he says. “There were news reports that a wintess had seen the terrorists run into one of those buildings.”
Hoping to see for himself, Tamburrino drove in his car toward the warehouse (about two minutes away) but was stopped by police at the entrance.
“They asked me to turn around right away. They were pretty stressed,” he says.
“We’ve all been told to stay in, to not go out. Not even journalists are allowed near the area where the terrorists are holed up.”
Town Under Lockdown
As numerous helicopters and vehicles closed off the zone around the suburban village, police went from house to house in the village telling citizens to remain inside. The website of Dammartin’s town hall carried the same message. Meanwhile, about two dozen children are secured in their schools under police protection, with teachers singing nursery rhymes to calm them down.
Eyewitness Christelle Alleaume, who works adjacent to the warehouse, told iTele by phone: “I was going to have a coffee with my friend when the police arrived, and then we heard three or four gunshots. We rushed back inside, as you can imagine, because we were frightened.
“Then the police ordered us back inside.” Alleaume, who described the law enforcers as “heavily armed, dressed in black with helmets. With rifles. We’ve also other police with pistols.”
According to Paris police authorities, there was no victim in the exchange of gunfire. Airport authorities confirm that two landing strips at Charles De Gaulle Airport have been closed and placed at the disposition of police helicopters. International passenger service is expected to be severely disrupted.
The number of men and materials is unprecedented and marks a cooperation between national police forces as well as France’s two elite anti-terror units, GIGN and RAID.
• Additional reporting by NINA BIDDLE