With two of the suspects thought to have been responsible for the massacre at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo still at large, French police are carrying out a massive manhunt to locate and arrest the two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi.
The Kouachi brothers are believed to have held up a gas station near Villers-Cotterêts, which lies about 50 miles northeast of Paris. The hunt for the two appears to be focusing on the region of Picardy, which includes a large area of northwest France stretching nearly to the Belgian border. A police operation appears to be taking place in the village of Crépy-en-Valois, where police helicopters have been circling and heavily armed police have been spotted. Elsewhere in the region, police forces have executed house-to-house searches.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday that the suspects were “probably followed” prior to the shooting and that there apparently was no sign of an impending attack, according to Le Figaro. Indeed, both Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, were previously known to the authorities. Cherif was convicted by a French court in 2008 of trying to travel to Iraq to fight in that country’s insurgent movement. Both brothers were named in a 2010 case in connection with a plot to spring an imprisoned Islamist from jail, according to the BBC. Because of a lack of evidence, neither brother was prosecuted.
According to CNN, citing an unnamed U.S. official, French intelligence has told their American counterparts that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011 “on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliate there” and received weapons training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
According to Yahoo News and reports in other American outlets, both brothers were viewed by American security officials as sufficiently serious threats to be placed on a no-fly list preventing them from traveling on commercial aircraft bound for and leaving the United States.
The Kouachi brothers are thought to have fled Paris after hijacking a car in the 19th arrondissement. Police were aided in their efforts to identify the brothers after finding an ID card left behind by Said Kouachi in the getaway car, according to AFP reports citing police sources. That car was reportedly abandoned after it was crashed into another vehicle.
Overnight, a third man, an 18-year-old named Hamyd Mourad, surrendered to police after reportedly seeing his name circulate on social media. His exact role in the plot remains unclear. His classmates have taken to social media to say he cannot have been involved in the attack, as he was in class at the time. On Wednesday, he had been named as a suspect in several unverified reports.
According to the French Interior Ministry, some 88,000 police officers are involved in the manhunt. In total, nine people have been detained in connection with the investigation.
U.S. officials have said they are sharing intelligence with their French counterparts and providing aid to the investigation. On Sunday, America’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Eric Holder, will travel to Paris for a conference on counterterrorism issues.
With the manhunt ongoing, the political reverberations of the attack are beginning to be felt in France. President François Hollande’s Socialists will join with former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement for a Sunday unity rally intended as an expression of solidarity for the devastated Charlie Hebdo. Thursday was decreed an official day of mourning.
But the call for unity is already coming under strain, as Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front, says her party hasn’t been invited to the rally. She has denounced what she calls her party’s “exclusion” and has questioned why “the representatives of a party that polled 25 percent of the vote in the last election” would not be invited to an event billed as a show of national unity, according to France 24.
Though the attackers’ affiliation with any Islamist terrorist group remains unconfirmed, witness reports that the attackers shouted Islamist slogans as they attacked the magazine have placed France’s large Muslim community in the crosshairs. Overnight, there were several reports of revenge attacks. According to the BBC, citing French media reports, Wednesday evening saw two shots fired at a Muslim prayer room in southern France. Elsewhere in southern France, a Muslim family was shot at while in their car. In western France, an assailant threw dummy grenades at a mosque.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo left 12 people, including its editor in chief and several prominent cartoonists, dead. Two police officers were killed in the attack.
The murder of a female police officer Thursday morning has contributed to fears that the Charlie Hebdo raid may inspire further violence. In Montrouge, just south of Paris, a police officer was shot at point blank range by an assailant dressed in dark clothing. According Cazeneuve, the interior minister, no link has been established between that murder and the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Despite the attack on the magazine, Charlie Hebdo will go to print next week. Increasing its typical print run from 60,000 to 1 million, it will publish an eight-page issue, about half its typical page count. “It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” columnist Patrick Pelloux told Agence France-Presse.
For a second night in a row, Paris residents gathered at the Place de la République in a show of support for Charlie Hebdo. On Thursday evening, the lights of the Eiffel Tower were dimmed to mark and protest what in France has become viewed as an attack on the fundamental values of the republic.
— Francesco Fenty (@Londonandreams) January 8, 2015
Late Thursday, President Barack Obama visited the French embassy in Washington, where he signed a book of condolences for the massacre. “As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended,” his inscription reads. “We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for — ideals that light the world. Vive la France!”
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