Security forces deploy in zone where Paris attack suspects spotted
PARIS/REIMS - Reutersv / Agence France-Presse
Police carry out a body from the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 7. AFP PhotoFrench security forces deployed Jan. 7 in a northern town where two brothers suspected of having gunned down 12 people in an Islamist attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo abandoned their car, a police source said.
RAID, the anti-terrorist unit of the French police force, and the GIGN, a paramilitary special operations unit, deployed in Villers-Cotterets in the northern Aisne region "where a car was abandoned after being used by the two suspects, who were identified by a witness," the source told AFP.
Cherif Kouachi, 32, a jihadist well-known to police, and his brother Said, 34, were spotted by the manager of a petrol station in the town about an hour's drive northeast of Paris, who after being robbed "formally identified" the two men.
They were described as "masked, with Kalashnikovs" and what appeared to be a rocket-launcher.
Seven people have been detained in the hunt for brothers suspected of gunning down 12 people in an Islamist assault on a satirical weekly, a judicial source said.
Confirming earlier comments by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the source, who refused to be named, said men and women close to the two brothers were currently being questioned by police, without saying where they had been detained.
Valls, meanwhile, told RTL radio that the two suspects - who are still on the run - were known to intelligence services and were "no doubt" being followed before Wednesday's attack.
The masked, black-clad gunmen burst into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday morning, killing some of France's most outspoken journalists and two policemen, before jumping into a car and escaping.
Police have issued arrest warrants for Cherif Kouachi, 32, a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq, and his 34-year-old brother Said. Both were born in Paris.
The youngest of three individuals believed to be behind the attack turned himself into police earlier Jan. 8, an official at the Paris prosecutor's office said. He was identified as Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996.
An official at the Paris prosecutor's office said he turned himself in at a police station in Charleville-Mzires, some 230 kilometres northeast of Paris near the Belgium border. BFM TV, citing unidentified sources, said the man had decided to go to the police after seeing his name in social media.
The two attackers escaped by car after shooting dead some of France's top cartoonists as well as two police officers.
A police source told Reuters that one of them had been identified by his identity card, which had been left in the getaway car. The police source also said Cherif Kouachi had previously been tried on terrorism charges and served 18 months in prison.
He was charged with criminal association related to a terrorist enterprise in 2005. He had been part of an Islamist cell that enlisted French nationals from a mosque in eastern Paris to go to Iraq to fight Americans in Iraq. He was arrested before leaving for Iraq to join militants.
Police published pictures of the two brothers Jan. 8 morning calling for witnesses and describing the two men as "armed and dangerous."
The police source said anti-terrorism police searching for the suspects and links to them had carried out searches in Reims, Strasbourg and Paris as part of the investigation.
Reuters reporter in Reims saw anti-terrorism police secure a building before a forensics team entered an apartment there while dozens of residents looked on.
During the attack, one of the assailants was captured on video outside the building shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest) as shots rang out. Another walked over to a police officer lying wounded on the street and shot him point-blank with an assault rifle before the two calmly climbed into a black car and drove off.
A police union official said there were fears of further attacks, and described the scene in the offices as carnage, with a further four wounded fighting for their lives.
Tens of thousands joined impromptu rallies across France in memory of the victims and to support freedom of expression.
The government declared the highest state of alert, tightening security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and department stores as the search for the assailants got under way.
Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders of all faiths and has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. Jihadists online repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its ridicule.
The last tweet on its account mocked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State, which has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and called for "lone wolf" attacks on French soil.
There was no claim of responsibility. However, a witness quoted by 20 Minutes daily newspaper said one of the assailants cried out before getting into his car: "Tell the media that it is al-Qaeda in Yemen!"
Supporters of Islamic State and other jihadist groups hailed the attack on Internet sites. Governments throughout Europe have expressed fear that fighters returning from Iraq or Syria could launch attacks in their home countries.
"Today the French Republic as a whole was the target," President François Hollande said in a prime-time evening television address. He declared a national day of mourning on Thursday.
An amateur video broadcast by French television stations shows two hooded men in black outside the building. One of them spots a wounded policeman lying on the ground, hurries over to him and shoots him dead at point-blank range with a rifle.
In another clip on television station iTELE, the men are heard shouting in French: "We have killed Charlie Hebdo. We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad."
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailants killed a man at the entrance of the building to force entry. They then headed to the second floor and opened fire on an editorial meeting attended by eight journalists, a policeman tasked with protecting the magazine's editorial director and a guest.
"What we saw was a massacre. Many of the victims had been executed, most of them with wounds to the head and chest," Patrick Hertgen, an emergencies services medic called out to treat the injured, told Reuters.
A Reuters reporter saw groups of armed policeman patrolling around department stores in the shopping district and there was an armed gendarme presence outside the Arc de Triomphe.
U.S. President Barack Obama described the attack as cowardly and evil, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among European leaders condemning the shooting.
The dead included co-founder Jean "Cabu" Cabut and editor-in-chief Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier.
Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council of the Muslim faith (CFCM), condemned an "immensely barbaric act also against democracy and freedom of the press" and said its perpetrators could not claim to be true Muslims.
Rico, a friend of Cabut, who joined the Paris vigil, said his friend had paid for people misunderstanding his humour.
"These attacks are only going to get worse. It's like a tsunami, it won't stop and what's happening today will probably feed the National Front," he told Reuters without giving his family name.
The far-right National Front (FN) has won support on discontent over immigration to France. Some fear Wednesday's attack could be used to feed anti-Islamic agitation.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen said it was too early to draw political conclusions but added: "The increased terror threat linked to Islamic fundamentalism is a simple fact."
France last year reinforced its anti-terrorism laws and was on alert after calls from Islamist militants to attack its citizens and interests in reprisal for French military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa.
The last major attack in Paris was in the mid-1990s when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) carried out a spate of attacks, including the bombing of a commuter train in 1995 which killed eight people and injured 150.