Paris massacre suspects holding one hostage: Police

A sign showing some of the victims of the terrorist attack at French magazine Charlie Hebdo is held as people gather to show their support on January 8, 2015 in Miami. Gunmen in Paris, France killed 12 people during an attack at the offices of the satirical newspaper on January 7, 2014. (Getty Images/AFP)

LATEST:   Two brothers suspected of slaughtering 12 people in an unprecedented attack in France held one person hostage on Friday as police cornered the gunmen northeast of the capital.

The hostage drama unfolded at a printing business in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goele, only 12 kilometres (seven miles) from Paris's main Charles de Gaulle airport, police sources said.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that an operation was under way to "neutralise" the suspects as the massive manhunt appeared to be reaching a dramatic climax with helicopters buzzing overhead.

Prior to the standoff, the suspects had hijacked a Peugeot 206 nearby from a woman who said she recognised them as the brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, accused of killing 12 people in Wednesday's attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The attack was France's deadliest bloodbath in half a century.

Prosecutors told AFP there had been no casualties in the shoot-out.

The frantic search for the pair came as it emerged they had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

And as fears spread in the wake of the attack, the head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 warned that Islamist militants were planning other "mass casualty attacks against the West" and that intelligence services may be powerless to stop them.

Wednesday's bloodbath at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris has sparked a global chorus of outrage, with impromptu and poignant rallies around the world in support of press freedom under the banner "jesuischarlie" (I am Charlie).

US President Barack Obama was the latest to sign a book of condolence in Washington with the message "Vive la France!" as thousands gathered in Paris on a day of national mourning Thursday, and the Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights to honour the dead.

And as a politically divided and crisis-hit France sought to pull together in the wake of the tragedy, the head of the country's Muslim community -- the largest in Europe -- urged imams to condemn terrorism at Friday prayers.

In a highly unusual step, President Francois Hollande was due to meet far-right leader Marine Le Pen at the Elysee Palace later Friday, as France geared up for a "Republican march" on Sunday expected to draw hundreds of thousands.

'Dressed like Robocops'

French authorities raised the security alert to the highest possible level in the region of Picardy, to the northeast of Paris, as forces tightened their noose on the brothers, Cherif Kouachi, 32 and Said, 34.

Around 24 hours into the manhunt, the brothers were identified after holding up a petrol station 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Paris.

Helicopters buzzed overhead during the night and paramilitary forces were preparing to step up their house-to-house searches.

As heavily armed crack units swarmed through the normally tranquil countryside villages, residents voiced their nervousness.

"I don't understand: the police are dressed like Robocops in the streets, but they let us move about freely. What if we came face-to-face with them, what do we do?" asked one woman, who gave her name as Carole.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that a total of 88,000 security forces were mobilised across the country and that an international meeting on terrorism would take place in Paris on Sunday.

Nine people had already been detained as part of the operation, Cazeneuve said.

And in an uneasy French capital, isolated incidents on Thursday ratcheted the tension higher, and the shooter of a policewoman, apparently unrelated to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, was still on the run.

Hollande convened key ministers for a third emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace.

Stupidity will not win

Meanwhile, questions mounted as to how a pair well-known for jihadist views could have slipped through the net and attack Charlie Hebdo, apparently in revenge for the weekly's repeated publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

Cherif Kouachi was a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq.

Said, his brother, has been "formally identified" as the main attacker in Wednesday's bloodbath. Both brothers were born in Paris to Algerian parents.

A senior US administration official told AFP that one of the two brothers was believed to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, while another source said that the pair had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

The brothers were both flagged in a US database as terror suspects, and also on the no-fly list, meaning they were barred from flying into the United States, the officials said.

 

Earlier Story:

One of the two brothers suspected of carrying out the deadly attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is believed to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, a US official said Thursday.

Another US official told AFP that Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are suspected of killing 12 people on Wednesday in the magazine's Paris headquarters, had been on a US terror watch list "for years."

The brothers, who were still on the run late Thursday, were both flagged in a US database as terror suspects, and also on the no-fly list, meaning they were barred from flying into the United States.

The first official told AFP that according to French intelligence, Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011, where he received training from Al-Qaeda's affiliate there in small arms combat and marksmanship.

Elite French security forces deployed helicopters in the night-time manhunt for the brothers in northern France, where the two suspects were identified as having held up a gas station.

Islamic State, the militant group sowing terror across swathes of Iraq and Syria and calling for global jihad, hailed the brothers as "heroes" on its Al-Bayan radio station.

Massive hunt for massacre suspects

France deployed tens of thousands of security forces in the hunt for two brothers accused of killing 12 people in an Islamist attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, as the pair spent a second night on the run.

The manhunt came as the head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 warned that Islamist militants were planning other "mass casualty attacks against the West" and that intelligence services may be powerless to stop them.

The attacks have sparked a global outpouring of tributes and solidarity. US President Barack Obama was the latest to sign a book of condolence with the message "Vive la France!" as thousands gathered in Paris on a day of national mourning to honour the dead.

In the rural Aisne region northeast of Paris, elite armed police and paramilitary forces backed by helicopters searched a wooded area near where the fugitives had earlier robbed a petrol station and abandoned their getaway car following Wednesday's shooting in the capital.

The brothers were thought to have carried out the attack, the worst in France for half a century, in revenge for the weekly's repeated publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

Around 24 hours into the manhunt, the brothers were identified after holding up the petrol station 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Paris, before fleeing again, possibly on foot and still armed with at least a Kalashnikov, police said.

Special police units rushed to the scene, where a maximum security alert was declared in addition to the capital.

Officers in heavy black bulletproof vests searched outbuildings, rifles at the ready, under the nervous eyes of local residents.

"I live near the woods," said village resident Roseline, a grandmother. "I'm afraid. Night is falling and they could be hiding nearby."

Islamic State, the militant group sowing terror across swathes of Iraq and Syria, hailed the brothers as "heroes" on its Al-Bayan radio station.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that 88,000 security forces had been mobilised and that an international meeting on terrorism would take place in Paris on Sunday.

'Armed and dangerous'

Arrest warrants were issued 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 to Algerian parents and were orphaned at an early age.

A senior US administration official told AFP that one of the two brothers was believed to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen while another source said that the pair had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

The brothers were both flagged in a US database as terror suspects, and also on the no-fly list, meaning they were barred from flying into the United States, the officials said.

Cazeneuve meanwhile said nine people had been detained as part of the operation.

Mourad Hamyd, an 18-year-old suspected of being an accomplice in the attack, handed himself in, police sources said. It was not clear what role, if any, he may have played in the attack.

Mourning and new jitters

As the dramatic chase unfolded, bells tolled across France at midday Thursday and people gathered outside the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in pouring rain with banners reading "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie).

The same sign has featured in vigils around the world, from Australia to the United States.

Several thousand people gathered later in Paris for a second night in tribute to those killed as the Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights.

Television footage showed children at a Muslim school in the northern city of Lille holding up sheets of paper emblazoned "not in my name".

Charlie Hebdo reporter Laurent Leger, who miraculously survived the bloodbath by hiding under a table, gave the first eyewitness account from inside the office.

"I saw a masked man, I saw a lot of blood, I saw half the editorial team on the ground," he told France Info radio. "I saw horror."

Meanwhile, several other incidents rocked the jittery nation including the fatal shooting of a policewoman just south of Paris.

Two Muslim places of worship were fired at, prosecutors said, although no casualties were reported.

Declaring Thursday a national day of mourning -- only the fifth in the last 50 years -- President Francois Hollande called the Charlie Hebdo attack "an act of exceptional barbarity".

The government also called for large demonstrations to show solidarity across the country on Sunday. Hollande ordered flags to fly at half-mast for three days in France.

France's main Islamic groups urged imams to condemn terrorism and join rallies against the attacks over the weekend.

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