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Manhunt Narrows for 2 Suspects in France


The search for two brothers suspected of being behind the Paris shootings at a satirical newspaper narrowed Thursday to a zone near the capital as France held a day of mourning for the victims.

Police focused the search for Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, on a region northeast of Paris, after an unconfirmed report that the pair had robbed a service station in the area. An investigation was underway near Villers-Cotterêts, about 80 kilometers west of the city of Reims. More than 88,000 members of security forces were involved in the manhunt.

The Kouachis, both French citizens of Algerian origin, were the top suspects in Wednesday's shootings at Charlie Hebdo, a weekly known for cartoons that occasionally mock Muslim extremism. In all, 12 people were killed and 11 were wounded.

A third suspect, Hamyd Mourad, 18, turned himself in to authorities, but it appeared 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.

A police woman was killed in a shootout early Thursday and two people were being held for questioning, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there was no confirmed link between the two incidents.

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

Police were 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 was being treated as a criminal act.

At a news conference Thursday, Cazeneuve described the massive search for the Kouachi brothers, helped by dozens of witnesses and information from videos and mobile phones. He said nine people had been detained for questioning.

Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi, right, are seen in images released by the Paris Préfecture de Police.
Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi, right, are seen in images released by the Paris Préfecture de Police.

Authorities believe the attack at the newspaper was inspired 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.

Investigators also said that Said Kouachi spent several months in Yemen in 2011, receiving terrorist training from al-Qaida's affiliate there. But there was no firm evidence that the brothers were under orders from any terror group.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said both suspects were known to intelligence services. They were in a U.S. central database of known terror suspects and were also on the U.S. no-fly list.

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

Cazeneuve said he had invited European interior ministers and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to talks Sunday in Paris to discuss their common terrorist challenge.

France mourns

Flags flew at half-staff, schools closed and security was stepped up during a day of mourning 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 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 lights on the Eiffel Tower dimmed late Thursday in tribute to the victims, and Parisians stood in silence in a chilly rain, holding up pens and pencils as a sign of the right to free speech.

People set up makeshift memorials around the capital and observed vigils for the victims. Paris resident Mariama Bongoura was among the many at the Place de la Republique, where bouquets were piled up at the foot of a giant statue of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty.

Boungoura described the killings as inhumane. She said it was up to God, not man, to render justice. Muslims like herself are angry at what has happened, she said, because it is against the Koran.

Bouquets were also piled up near the office of Charlie Hebdo, about a mile away. Police cordoned off the site, but a small crowd gathered nearby to pay respects. One man placed a bottle of wine alongside the flowers, in tribute to the magazine's bon-vivant spirit.

Denis Drigeard Desgarnier arrived in tears. As a youth, he participated in the May 1968 social uprising in France. At the time, he said, Charlie Hebdo's journalists used their pens to defend their cause and free expression. He said the reaction by many French to the shootings was a comfort, especially because they were not blaming the Muslim community for the deaths.

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

Even before the attack, France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim population, was on high alert, like many other 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 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 said they also spoke fluent French.

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

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.

Phillipe Brisolaro, twin brother of one of the police officers killed, said the attack was against more than just the victims.

"The whole of France is mobilizing against this," he said. "You cannot insult freedom of speech, insult the authority of the state."

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

Wednesday's shooting was not the first time Charlie Hebdo has been the target of violence. Its office was firebombed in 2011 after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed on its cover.

World reaction

President Barack Obama joined several world leaders in condemning Wednesday's "cowardly, evil" attack.

He made an unannounced visit to the French Embassy in Washington on Thursday, shortly after returning from a trip to Phoenix, to sign a condolences book and express solidarity with the French people. He was joined there by the French ambassador, Gerard Araud.

Obama wrote that "as allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended. We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for — ideals that light the world.''

European Union governments and officials are discussing responses to the killing of the French journalists and could propose new policies in the coming weeks, officials said 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 into 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 Thursday that 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 was already at its second-highest level, had not been changed.

Pope Francis decried the "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 would 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.

Some material for this article came from Reuters and AFP.