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What U.S. Officials Know Now About The Standoffs In France


We are getting more details as the minutes and hours go by this morning about two hostage standoffs in Paris and the people French police say are behind those standoffs. The first involves the two brothers that we have been talking about since the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday. The second involves two new suspects that French police have identified. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has been working this story with her sources here in the United States, and she joins us now. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Tell us the latest about now - let's talk about the first hostage situation that involves the two suspects in the killings at that satirical magazine which is now unfolding near Paris's international airport, France's biggest airport.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. Well, U.S. officials familiar with what's happening on the ground say French police and SWAT teams have surrounded a building in an industrial park where Cherif and Said Kouachi are said to be holding a hostage.

We've confirmed with U.S. officials that there does appear to be one hostage. There's been some back and forth about that all morning. She's possibly an employee of a printing business which is in the business they're in now. We understand there's been contact between police and the Kouachi brothers and that the brothers say that they are prepared to martyr themselves.

MONTAGNE: Prepared to martyr themselves. Well, there is a second situation unfolding in eastern Paris at a kosher supermarket, which is - and this is rather an amazing turn of events - linked to the Kouachi brothers.

TEMPLE-RASTON: They believe so, yes. This is a market in northeast Paris near Porte de Vincennes. And the French police have released photographs and names of the suspects who they believe are involved. There's a 32-year-old man named Amedy Coulibaly and a 26-year-old woman named Hayat Boumeddiene.

French police say they believe that the two are wanted in connection with the shooting of a policewoman that happened shortly after the magazine attack. And Coulibaly and possibly Boumeddiene are thought to be holding hostages in this supermarket. It's unclear exactly because this unfolding so quickly, but that's what French authorities have said publicly, that they think these two are involved with these unfolding terrorist attacks.

MONTAGNE: Well, so the link is not absolutely confirmed. Is that what you're trying to say? Or are they saying there is a link - not quite sure they know the Kouachi brothers - and if so, does that suggest a Paris terrorist cell?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they do think that there's a link. Now, they're calling it - they're not calling it - U.S. officials aren't calling it a cell, per se. What they've been telling us privately for days is that they thought the shooting of the policewoman in Paris was a related terrorist event. They didn't think that the two brothers were working alone, and now that appears to be borne out.

I mean, U.S. officials say that Coulibaly was linked to Cherif Kouachi, who's the younger brother, because both were implicated in a plot to break out a jihadi of a French jail in 2010. Coulibaly was actually charged in that case. That's what U.S. officials are telling us. And he went to jail. And Cherif Kouachi was implicated, but was never really - but was never charged. Interestingly in that 2010 case, Said Kouachi, that's the first time he started appearing in police reports linked to jihadi ties.

MONTAGNE: OK, this is all very complicated and the names themselves are actually hard to sort of hold onto, but let's break it down to something simple about the Kouachi brothers. Those are the suspects in the magazine attack. We've only got just a couple of seconds - few seconds here, but what can you tell us quickly about them?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, quickly, I'll tell you that Cherif Kouachi, the younger of the two brothers, was thought to be the force behind this attack because he'd gone to jail for terrorism officials - terrorism offenses. Increasingly, U.S. officials are telling us that they believe the older brother, Said, who appears to have gone and trained with al-Qaida, was driving this attack.

MONTAGNE: Dina, thanks very much for joining us.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. And of course, we'll be following this story, not just here on MORNING EDITION, although through our show, but also throughout the day here at NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.