HomeNewsCharlie Hebdo attack: Police squads scour small forest for suspects

Charlie Hebdo attack: Police squads scour small forest for suspects

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The gunmen are still on the run.

Longpont, France
CNN

But French search teams are concentrating on a compact rural area 30 miles northeast of Paris. The two suspects in the killing of 12 at the offices of satire cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo may have been spotted near there twice.

On Thursday, they followed a lead from a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets, whom Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, reportedly threatened, as they stole gas and food and then drove off.

Police believe the brothers may have later fled on foot into nearby woodlands.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls put that northernmost region of France, Picardy, on the same highest terror alert that Paris has been on since the attack.

And police spying down with night vision optics from helicopters believe they caught a glimpse of them Thursday near Crepy-en-Valois, France — not far from the reported robbery.

That town and the gas station border on a patch of woods, and on another side of the forest, 30 to 40 police vehicles swarmed out from the town of Longpont.

Squads of officers armed with rifles — some in helmets and with shields — canvassed field and forest.

Other places, other troubles

Picardy was not alone. More than 80,000 officers deployed across France to try to intercept the two brothers.

And they may be searching for a third suspect in a separate shooting in a southern suburb of Paris on Thursday, which authorities called a terror attack. They have not connected it to Wednesday’s slaying at Charlie Hebdo.

A gunman dressed in black and wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest — just like those who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices — shot and killed a female police officer in Montrouge.

Al Qaeda, Yemen, gasoline

In the meantime, investigators studying physical and digital evidence shared more details.

In the car driven in the attack, police found a container with gasoline and items they say could have been used to make rudimentary explosives like Molotov cocktails. They also found Said Kouachi’s identification card.

Police have also searched residences in a few towns and detained nine people in connection with the investigation.

Hamyd Mourad, 18, who had been named as a suspect, turned himself in after seeing his name on social media, a source told AFP, but classmates have said he was in school when the attacks occurred.

Said, the elder of the Kouachi brothers, had been to Yemen, a French official said. He trained there on weapons with al Qaeda, a U.S. official with access to French intelligence said.

Bloodshed, publication deadline

Charlie Hebdo’s staff is as defiant as it was after its former offices were fire-bombed in 2011, the day it was to publish an issue poking fun at Islamic law.

Back then, editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, “Charb” for short, said it would not slow them down one bit. The magazine continued lampooning world religions, politics and society in its hallmark profane — at times vulgar — style.

Cartoonists took a profane aim at the world

Some have found their drawings offensive, but they are not uncommon for European comic satire aimed at an adult audience.

Since the attack, Charb was guarded day and night, a journalist who knew him told CNN. Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula placed him on a list of assassination targets.

On Wednesday, two masked gunmen dressed in black forced their way into his offices in the trendy 11th district, and, according to accounts, separated men from women and called out the names of cartoonists they intended to kill.

They shot dead Charbonnier and four other well-known cartoonists known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski, Honore and Tignous. They also killed three more journalists, the magazine’s co-owner, a maintenance man and two police officers.

The violence won’t stop Charlie Hebdo’s staff from publishing its next issue on Wednesday, a week after the murders.

Candles, notes, pens aloft

In Mexico City late Thursday, a crowd gathered holding up signs reading “Yo soy Charlie,” a Spanish translation of the protest sign “Je suis Charlie” — I am Charlie. The show of solidarity that has circled the globe in a domino effect from Berlin to Tokyo to New York to Bogota, along with bitter condemnation by leaders of Muslim communities.

The night of Wednesday’s slaying, multitudes filled sprawling squares, holding signs and candles, and raising pens into the air.

Late Thursday, the Eiffel Tower cut its lights, blackening against the night sky in Charlie Hebdo’s honor.

By early Friday, candles, French flags, notes and pens accumulated as mementos in public places.

And they piled up at near the entrance to the cartoon magazine’s offices.

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