Police officer dies in shooting at Paris’ edge, amid tension
- Parisians angry but determined after magazine attack (1:59)
A French security convoy and helicopters are rushing to the scene of an operation to detain two brothers suspected in the deadly storming of a French satirical newspaper that killed 12.
The suspects have been on the run since the Wednesday attack in central Paris, and thousands of French security forces have mobilised to find them.
The operation unfolded Friday in Dammartin-en-Goele, about 40 kilometres northeast of Paris.
There are French media reports the suspects have taken hostages.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed the operation moments after an emergency meeting with the President, Prime Minister and top police official.
Hours earlier, according to a security official, the brothers stole a Peugeot amid gunfire.
Police SWAT teams have swarmed a region north of Paris, fearing a second strike by the suspects, who are described in a nationwide notice as “armed and dangerous.”
One brother was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008, and survivors of the bloody assault on Charlie Hebdo said the attackers claimed allegiance to al-Qaida in Yemen. The weekly newspaper had been repeatedly threatened – and its offices were firebombed in 2011 – after spoofing Islam and depicting the Prophet Muhammad in caricature.
Heavily armed security forces with air cover moved along country roads and among old stone buildings. The country’s maximum terror alert was extended from Paris to the northern Picardie region, focusing on towns that might be safe havens for Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said both men were known to intelligence services.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to join extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there.
The younger brother, Cherif, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for his links to a network sending jihadis to fight American forces in Iraq.
Both were also on the U.S. no-fly list, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. The American officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.
French President Francois Hollande called for tolerance after the country’s worst terrorist attack in decades.
“France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty – and thus of resistance – breathed freely,” Hollande said.
Nine people, members of the brothers’ entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly assault on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, were questioned for information on the attackers, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement.
The minister confirmed reports the men were identified by the elder brother’s ID card, left in an abandoned getaway car, a slip that contrasted with the seeming professionalism of the attack.
A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.
The Kouachi brothers – born in Paris to Algerian parents – were well-known to French counterterrorism authorities. Cherif Kouachi, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq.
Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures. The weekly paper had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and a sketch of Islamic State’s leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Nothing has been tweeted since.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack.
Charlie Hebdo planned a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.
Editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who was among those slain, “symbolised secularism … the combat against fundamentalism,” his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, said on BFM-TV.
“He was ready to die for his ideas,” she said.
Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadis trained in warfare. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria – headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have threatened France – home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.
The French suspect in a deadly 2014 attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium had returned from fighting with extremists in Syria; and the man who rampaged in southern France in 2012, killing three soldiers and four people at a Jewish school, received paramilitary training in Pakistan.