Operation to detain Paris attack suspects underway

Operation to detain Paris attack suspects underway
French security forces say they have cornered the two brothers suspected of the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, as a stunned France mourns the victims of the massacre.
4 min read
09 January, 2015
France is on its highest security alert for years.[AFP]

A French security convoy and helicopters are rushing to the scene of an operation to detain two brothers suspected in the deadly storming of Charlie Hebdo  the 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 mobilized to find them. 

The operation unfolded Friday in Dammartin-en-Goele, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital.

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 car amid gunfire.  

The latest developmente come as a stunned and outraged France observed a minute of silence Thursday, broken only by church bells, in honour of the victims.

At midday (1100 GMT), crowds of people stood silently in public squares, schools and outside official buildings. Bells tolled at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral and in churches across the country. 

Wednesday's massacre at triggered spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity around the world and more than 100,000 poured onto the streets of France. People from Moscow to Washington rallied in their tens of thousands under the banner "I am Charlie", in support of press freedom and the controversial Charlie Hebdo. 

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Policewoman shot dead

As fear spread after the country's bloodiest attack in half a century, several other incidents rocked the nation, although it was not clear whether they were linked to Wednesday's attack. 

An assailant opened fire on a police officer on the southern edge of Paris early Thursday, killing her and injuring a nearby street sweeper before fleeing, officials and a witness said. France's interior minister cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

The attacker in the pre-dawn shooting Thursday remained at large, said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. It was not immediately clear whether the attack was linked to the assault on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which two police officers were among the dead.

Cazeneuve left an emergency government meeting to travel to the scene of the latest shooting. 

France is on its highest level of alert after the deadly attacks at Charlie Hebdo's central Paris offices. 

Declaring Thursday a national day of mourning, only the fifth in the last 50 years, President Francois Hollande called the bloodbath "an act of exceptional barbarity" and "undoubtedly a terrorist attack". 

But 24 hours after the brazen daylight assault, the masked, black-clad gunmen were still on the loose. 

Police 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 two men were likely to be "armed and dangerous," authorities warned. 

Cazeneuve said seven people had been detained in the hunt for the brothers, and a judicial source who refused to be named added these were men and women close to the suspects. 

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, meanwhile, told French radio the two suspects were known to intelligence services and were "no doubt" being followed before Wednesday's attack.

The frantic manhunt stretched into the night with search-and-seizure operations in Strasbourg and towns near Paris, while in north eastern Reims, police commandos raided a building later scoured by white-clad forensic police. 

Hamyd Mourad, an 18-year-old suspected of being an accomplice in the attack, handed himself in, with police sources saying he had seen his name "circulating on social media". 

A ‘hateful’ act

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques, condemned the "hateful act," and urged Muslims and Christians "to intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a united front against extremism." 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, added its condemnation, saying that violence and radicalism were the biggest enemies of Islam and went against all its fundamental principles and values. 

A tweet from an al-Qaida representative who communicated Wednesday with The Associated Press said the group was not claiming responsibility for the attack, but called it "inspiring." 

Supporters of militant Islamic groups praised it. One self-described Tunisian loyalist of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group tweeted that the attack was well-deserved revenge against France. 

Attacks on Muslim targets

Despite widespread condemnations from Muslim communities and organisations,  a spate of attacks on Muslim places of worship and businesses were reported across France. 

Three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque shortly after midnight in the city of Le Mans, west of Paris. A bullet hole was also found in a window of the mosque. In the Port-la-Nouvelle district near Narbonne in southern France, several shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall shortly after evening prayers. The hall was empty, the local prosecutor said. 

An explosion at a kebab shop near a mosque in the eastern French town of Villefranche-sur-Saone on Thursday morning also left no casualties. Local prosecutors have described it as a "criminal act".  

No link has yet been established between the attacks.