Paris: Two of the suspects involved in the attack on a magazine office in Paris were reportedly spotted in northern France Thursday while a third surrendered to police as France went into mourning a day after the tragedy.
Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his brother Said, 34, were seen in a grey Clio car in Aisne, a department in the Picardy region, Xinhua news agency reported. The manager of a gas station near Villers-Cotteret was quoted as saying that he “surely recognised the two men”.
They are suspected of gunning down 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s office here Wednesday, killing, among others, a cartoonist whose caricature of Prophet Mohammed ignited a huge row.
The attackers are still on the run. Police dubbed them “armed and dangerous”.
Earlier, late Wednesday, Hamyd Mourad, 18, the third suspect, surrendered to police in the town of Charleville-Mezieres near the border with Belgium, authorities said Thursday.
Mourad gave himself up shortly before midnight Wednesday after seeing his name circulating on social network websites, according to French press reports.
In Wednesday’s attack, two masked gunmen burst into the magazine’s Paris office Wednesday with automatic weapons, killing 12 people, including the editor of Charlie Hebdo and three acclaimed cartoonists, and wounding more than 20 other people before making a well-planned getaway.
Charlie Hebdo had been the target of attacks in the past too by Islamists deeply angered by its satirical treatment of Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim religion.
Meanwhile, the Metronews daily reported that Cherif Kouachi was tried in 2005 for being part of a cell that sends jihadis to Iraq.
He was sentenced to three years in jail but served only half the term.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday that several people were arrested late Wednesday in Paris, according to Efe news agency.
“Several (suspects) were held overnight,” Valls told RTL radio, adding that preventing another attack “is our main concern”.
The French government has raised its terrorist alert to the highest level and has mobilised more than 3,000 members of the security forces to search for the Kouachi brothers.
However, a day after the massacre, France continued to remain on edge after gunmen Thursday shot dead a policewoman and left another person critically injured.
The Thursday shooting occurred around 7.15 a.m. in Montrouge, a densely populated area of Paris.
Xinhua said a man fired at the two with an automatic rifle, leaving them critically wounded. The municipal policewoman succumbed to her injuries.
The suspect, born in 1962 and known to the police due to previous convictions, was on the run, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at the shooting scene.
Authorities did not confirm if Thursday’s incident was linked to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.
In a separate incident, an explosion took place Thursday morning in a restaurant next to a mosque in the French city of Villefrance-sur-Saone in Rhone region.
No casualties were reported.
The explosion shattered windows of the restaurant at 6 a.m., Xinhua reported citing the Le Progres newspaper, adding that a gas leak probably was not behind the blast.
“I am afraid that is linked to Wednesday’s dramatic incident,” Bernard Perrut, mayor of the city, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Meanwhile, a minute’s silence was observed all over France Thursday, bells of Notre Dame rang at midday and flags flew at half-mast in memory of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.
In a prime-time TV address Wednesday evening, French President Francois Hollande declared Thursday a mourning day, calling all French citizens to unite together at this difficult time in the country.
“Our best weapon is our unity. Nothing can divide us, nothing can stop us, and nothing can separate us… Liberty will always be stronger than barbarity,” Xinhua quoted Hollande as saying.
Messages condemning the horrendous attack continued to pour in from across the world.