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Homeland Security

Manhunt Expands for 2 Suspects in France

by Lisa Bryant January 08, 2015

French officials are pursuing two brothers in connection with Wednesday's massacre at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, after an unconfirmed sighting of the pair at a service station in northern France.

An investigation was underway Thursday in the area of Villers-Cotterêts, about 80 kilometers west of the city of Reims.

Police have linked Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, both French citizens of Algerian origin, to the deaths of 12 people at the weekly magazine known for cartoons that occasionally mock Muslim extremism.

Patrick Pelloux, a columnist at the paper and medical doctor, was called to the newsroom by a colleague immediately after the shooting.

Pelloux described the scene in an emotional interview with French television channel iTele.

'It was horrible. Many were already gone because they were shot down in execution style and we managed to save the others, who this morning are doing well,' he said.

​​'I have come here to tell you that the newspaper will continue because they have not won and Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Bernard Maris, Honore, Elsa, Tignous, Mustapha and the guard who was killed and was tasked with protecting us have not died in vain,' Pelloux said.

Arrests, attacks

A third suspect -- 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad -- turned himself in to authorities, but it appears uncertain whether he was involved.

Police identified the suspects after one of them left his identity card in the getaway car after Wednesday's attack.

Authorities said they have so far detained seven suspects, mostly acquaintances of the brothers, in relation to the shootings.

Officials have not confirmed whether the fatal shooting of a policewoman in southern Paris on Thursday is linked to the newspaper slaying suspects.

She was gunned down while responding to a traffic accident in the Montrouge area just outside of the capital. The suspect remains at large.

Police are also investigating an explosion at a kebab shop near a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone, in eastern France, early Thursday. No one was injured. The incident is being treated as a criminal act.

Authorities believe Wednesday's attack at the newspaper was motivated by radical Islam. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted of terrorism charges in 2008, for his involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said both suspects were known to intelligence services. He described them acting like soldiers.

Valls also said preventing a second attack is the government's main concern.

France mourns

Flags are flying at half-staff on Thursday, schools have been closed and security has been stepped up around the Paris area following the country's deadliest terrorist attack in decades.

President Francois Hollande convened an emergency cabinet meeting, before a moment of silence was held at midday. As a sign of national unity, Hollande also invited arch-rival and opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy to the Elysee Palace, his first visit since losing power in 2012.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of cities across France to show support for the victims.

The government also called for large demonstrations to show solidarity across the country on Sunday.

Even before the attack, France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim population, was on high alert like many countries that have seen citizens leave to fight alongside the radical Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

France has a long history in dealing with terrorism, stretching back to the 1990s when Algerian terrorists staged bombing attacks on Paris subways. More recently, more than 1,000 French nationals have headed to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist movements.

Witnesses to attack

The gunmen burst into the Charlie Hebdo offices Wednesday during an editorial meeting. Witnesses reported hearing the masked gunmen shouting 'God is great!' in Arabic as they entered the newsroom, but say they also spoke fluent French.

They were also heard shouting that they had avenged the Prophet Muhammad.

Ten journalists were killed, including editor Stéphane Charbonnier and well-known cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut and Bernard Verlhac, who went by the pen name Tignous. Two police officers also were killed. Eleven people were wounded.

France raised its terrorism alert to the highest level after the attack.

The motive behind the attack remains unclear, but the Wednesday shooting is not the first time Charlie Hebdo has been the target of violence. Its office was firebombed in 2011 after publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover.

World reaction

U.S. President Barack Obama joined several world leaders in offering condolences and condemning Wednesday's 'cowardly, evil' attack.

European Union governments and officials are discussing responses to the killing of French journalists in Paris and could propose new policies in the coming weeks, officials said on Thursday.

'We must in the days to come, make sure that this pain transforms itself into concrete actions,' the bloc's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference in Riga. 'With the pain, we have already begun to work on the response.'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said such violence should be a unifying force. 'This horrific attack is meant to divide; we must not fall in to that trap. This is a moment for solidarity around the world, we must stand strong for freedom of expression and tolerance and stand against forces of division and hate,' Ban said.

Muslim leaders in France also have denounced the shooting.

The British government said on Thursday it had increased security at its borders, including at ports and at checkpoints it operates on French soil, in response to the Paris attack.

Interior Minister Theresa May said the extra security was not based on specific intelligence and that the country's threat alert, which is already at its second-highest level, had not been changed.

Pope Francis described it as a 'horrible attack' saying such violence, 'whatever the motivation, is abominable, it is never justified.'

Cartoonists react

Meanwhile, cartoonists reacted as they know best, composing biting satirical drawings against what editorialists said was an attack on the foundations of democracy.

Among the cartoons that went viral online was one by Australia's David Pope: a picture of a gunman with a smoking rifle standing over a body, bearing the caption 'He drew first.'

Christophe Deloire, Head of Reporters Without Borders, called Wednesday a "black day" for the French press.

'How can we imagine a worse attack when this editorial team, Charlie Hebdo, has already been threatened in the past. They've had very serious threats but nothing ... there was never anything of this proportion. This attack against Charlie Hebdo is maddening,' Deloire said.

Employees of Charlie Hebdo told French news agency AFP it will print 1 million copies of its next issue, a special edition due out January 14.

The provocative, colorful publication has replaced its website with a black screen and the message 'Je suis Charlie,' French for 'I am Charlie.' The phrase has become a rallying cry in support of the victims online and at vigils around the world since the shooting.

The mayor of Paris announced the lights will dim on the Eiffel Tower late Thursday, closing out a national day of mourning. A crowd is also expected for the second night at the capital's Republique square in honor of the shooting victims.

Some material for this article came from Reuters and AFP.

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