Police in France late Friday afternoon stormed two locations where gunmen were holding hostages in Paris and to the northeast of the city, news agencies reported, ending a three-day siege of the French capital.
French news agency AFP reported that police in Dammartin-en-Goele, a small town 43 kilometers (29 miles) northeast of Paris, ended an eight-hour standoff by killing the two gunmen who had attacked satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. About 30 minutes later, AFP said a lone gunman in Paris had also been killed.
The BBC reported that the lone hostage held by the two Charlie Hebdo attackers had been freed uninjured. President Francois Hollande told the French public that four hostages had been killed at the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris with the lone gunman.
The supermarket is in Paris's Saint-Mande neighborhood.
On BBC television, ambulances were seen arriving at the supermarket amid a swarm of police. The events appeared to bring to an end a tense, cold-blooded, three-day assault on the French capital by terrorists reportedly trained by Al-Qaeda.
Police said they believed the supermarket hostage taker was Amedy Coulibaly, a 32-year-old who belonged to the same terror cell as Cherif Kouachi, 32, the French citizen of Algerian descent suspected of killing 12 people at Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday with his brother, Said Kouachi, 34.
Mr. Coulibaly was believed to have also shot and killed a female police officer on Thursday in southern Paris. A person wearing a protective vest used an automatic weapon to shoot the police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, in the back after she had responded to a traffic accident in Paris's Porte de Châtillon neighborhood.
Police on Friday night were searching for a young woman acquaintance of Mr. Coulibaly, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, who may have escaped in the hail of bullets as police stormed the supermarket. CNN, citing law enforcement sources, said the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen had taken credit for plotting the attacks in France.
Police apparently moved in coordinated fashion to end both hostage standoffs after the assailant in Paris threatened to kill his hostages if police moved on the two brothers northeast of the city.
With the world following the developments, European countries including Germany began to reexamine their security plans, their reach and price. A meeting planned for Sunday between the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande in Strasbourg, France, was cancelled.
The news last weekend that German automaker Daimler regularly runs security checks on its employees had been broadly criticized in Germany, where people place great value on data privacy.
The security situation is so stretched right now that it’s not working anymore.
Daimler’s comparison of employee names with lists of terror suspects is a response to requirements by the United States that companies do not finance terrorism, directly or indirectly. Other firms doing business with companies from the United States likewise have to prove their compliance with anti-terror laws; of all German carmakers, Daimler’s move is the strictest interpretation. Other firms such as Bosch run spot checks regularly, or like Thyssen-Krupp, screen business partners, reasoning that they are covered by checks carried out by banks.
Across Germany, companies and authorities are weighing pragmatism and price. How much internal security does the country need – and how much should it cost?
It can take up to 25 police officers to provide round-the-clock monitoring of a suspected radical Islamist classed as dangerous. For the 180 people returning from the civil war in Syria, this would take 5,000 police officers working full-time, coverage that none of the federal states’ police forces can provide.
They expect little help from the central government which made cuts in recent years when the terrorism threat was perceived to be low and the need to make savings seemed closer to home.
The BKA, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, and the Verfassungsschutz, the German domestic intelligence service, do not provide information about how much of the staff cover jihadists but the numbers speak for themselves. The former has 5,500 officers, the latter 2,800. Both are tasked with preventing other problems too, from organized crime to right- and left-wing extremism.
The country’s federal structure makes it difficult to quantify cuts to the police force but according to estimates by the police trade union, 15,600 jobs were cut since 1997. Germany has 270,000 law enforcement officers.
Fears are growing across the political spectrum that the security forces are now facing their limits.
In the 2015 budget negotiated the past fall, 140 more posts were approved for airport security and 100 more for the domestic intelligence service. These followed tough debates as further, more extensive cuts to the country's domestic security forces had been planned.
Observers said the increases were insufficient. “The security situation is so stretched right now that it’s not working anymore,” said Armin Schuster, a politician at the ruling center-right Christian democrat party, or CDU, who formerly worked for the police.
The government is now likely to face calls for more funding. Similar demands are being made at companies, particularly in the logistics and aviation sectors.
Regulations were dramatically increased after the September 11 attacks for passenger flights and air freight. According to industry information, security requirements at German airports used to make up 5 to 8 percent of operating costs; now they make up 20 to 25 percent. “Each check and delay costs money,” is a common complaint from businesses; such measures interrupt supply chains. Fears are now growing that politicians will impose more regulations, beyond what is necessary.
The questions go further, into how far people in German are willing to compromise on data privacy to increase their security. An ongoing debate about saving data reflects the widespread views held by different political parties. The CDU’s Mr. Schuster wants to save data that could prevent terrorists planning an attack via the internet, for example. Green party politician Irene Mihalic countered that in France, this data has been saved for years but failed to prevent Wednesday’s attack.
The security debate is also underway at a European level. A draft law is being debated in the European Parliament about whether to save and share air travelers’ passenger data to spot unusual travel patterns to identify possible suspects. Differing views on data protection have so far prevented the law from being passed.
The European Commission is currently preparing plans to require the registration of people entering and leaving the region, as part of a European Security Agenda expected in the coming months.
Many of the questions raised have long been debated; events seem likely to demand answers fast.
Til Hoppe and Klaus Stratmann cover politics for Handelsblatt, Torsten Ludwig is one of Handelsblatt's Brussels correspondents. Kevin O'Brien is editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]