Charlie Hebdo attack: The hunt for the killers
PARIS (CNN) — Another deadly attack, another reported sighting, another day on edge Thursday in France, where the manhunt continues for two brothers wanted for the massacre at the office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Authorities have not said yet that the killing of a female police officer — by a man dressed, like the Charlie Hebdo attackers, in all black and apparently wearing a bulletproof vest — in the Paris suburb of Montrouge has any connection to Wednesday’s slaying of 12 people, including cartoonists who were called out by name and executed.
Nor have they confirmed French media reports that a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets in Aisne, the northern Picardy region of France, told police that he saw the Charlie Hebdo suspects Thursday. The men threatened the attendant and stole gas and food before heading toward Paris.
Regardless, both scenes were certainly a flurry of police activity Thursday. In Montrouge, south of Paris, that included about 20 heavily armed police at one point surrounding an apartment building and pushing back crowds. In more remote Aisne, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of the capital, the gas station was cordoned off with about 20 officers and a forensic truck on the scene.
Just as certain is the fact that Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, are not in custody, which means that France’s national nightmare is not over.
“They are still free, they are heavily armed, so we can be afraid of further violence,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French broadcaster RTL.
• A number of items were being transferred from the gas station in Aisne to police vehicles, according to CNN’s Atika Shubert at the scene.
• Parisian officials will honor the magazine Charlie Hebdo and its surviving staff at a Friday morning ceremony, Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman told CNN.
• Crowds gathered in the rain in Paris to mark a moment’s silence to honor those killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine. Many held up media credentials and broke into applause as the silence ended. The bells of Notre Dame Cathedral tolled across the city.
• Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on “civilized people,” whatever their faith, to unite “against barbarism” after the attack.
• The two police officers killed in the Wednesday attack have been identified as Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro.
‘Their only mistake’
The two masked men apparently left behind a getaway car, which police impounded. CNN affiliate BFMTV reported that police found an identification card of one of the Kouachi brothers during their investigations.
“It was their only mistake,” said Dominique Rizet, BFMTV’s police and justice consultant, reporting that the discovery helped the investigation.
The Kouachi brothers returned from Syria in the summer, USA Today reported, without saying where it got the information.
Officials were running their names through databases to look for connections with ISIS and al Qaeda. The suspects were known to security services, Valls said.
A third suspect, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, turned himself in to police, a source close to the case told the AFP news agency. Mourad did so late Wednesday after seeing his name mentioned on social media, the source said.
The victims may have been killed over cartoons the satirical magazine published lampooning the Muslim prophet, Mohammed.
The magazine is known for its irreverence toward religion, society and politics. Its offices were fire-bombed in 2011, on the same day the magazine was due to release an issue with a cover that appeared to poke fun at Islamic law.
On Wednesday, gunmen ran into the building housing Charlie Hebdo’s offices, not far from the famed Notre Dame Cathedral and the Place de la Bastille.
On their way into the building, they asked exactly where the offices were. The men reportedly spoke fluent French with no accent.
They barged in on the magazine’s staff, while they were gathered for a lunchtime editorial meeting. The gunmen separated the men from the women and called out the names of cartoonists they intended to kill, said Dr. Gerald Kierzek, a physician who treated wounded patients and spoke with survivors.
The shooting was not a random spray of bullets, but more of a precision execution, he said.
It was the deadliest attack in Europe since July 2011, when Anders Behring Brevik killed 77 people in attacks on government buildings in Oslo, Norway, and at a youth camp on the island of Utoya.
Avenging the prophet
In Paris on Wednesday, journalist Martin Boudot was working nearby when the attack happened.
Boudot and his colleagues made a mad dash for the roof. They didn’t know what to do.
“We knew that there were victims a few meters away from us, but there might be, you know, some explosives somewhere or maybe a third guy,” Boudot said.
Cell phone cameras caught two gunmen as they ran back out of the building, still firing. One of them ran up to a wounded man lying on a sidewalk, who appeared to wear a dark blue uniform. The gunman shot him point-blank.
The two said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed and shouted “Allahu akbar,” which translates to “God is great,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said.
‘Parisians will not be afraid’
The victims’ names were splashed Thursday across newspapers as heroes for freedom of expression. “Liberty assassinated.” “We are all Charlie Hebdo,” the headlines blared.
They included Stephane Charbonnier — a cartoonist and the magazine’s editor, known as “Charb” — and three other well-known cartoonists known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous.
Flags flew at half-staff on public buildings and events were canceled Thursday, a national day of mourning.
“I can’t remember such a day since 9/11,” said Klugman, Paris’ deputy mayor. “The country really is in a kind of shutdown in respect and memory of the 12 people killed yesterday.”
The day earlier, thousands poured into streets in hordes in a show of solidarity, holding up pens and chanting, “We are Charlie!” Similar demonstrations took place in cities in addition to Paris, including Rome, Berlin and Barcelona.
According to Klugman, “Parisians will not be afraid.”