Paris: The two most wanted men in France who carried out the attack on the satirical magazine — both French-Algerian Muslims — are being hunted in a forest near Paris by the anti-terror police. They were tracked down to the remote woodland area after they robbed a nearby petrol station on Thursday morning.
But with both men, believed to be brothers, on the run, with hordes of armed police in armoured personnel carriers in hot pursuit, the nearby village of Longpont is on tenterhooks. Officers were going door to door in the village as they combed the area for the Charlie Hebdo massacre suspects. The 300 residents of the tiny village have every reason to be terrified: Though the assailants are on foot, they are still armed and the forest into which they have sneaked in measures 32,000 acres, an area larger than Paris. Initially, there had been reports the gunmen had barricaded themselves in a house, but this account was later refuted.
Apart from the French anti-terrorism police, helicopters have converged on the area. According to an attendant at the petrol pump, which the two suspects raided, the number plate of their car was covered and they had Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers inside the vehicle.
There were two explosions near mosques early Thursday, raising fears the deadly attack at Charlie Hebdo would ignite a backlash against France’s large and diverse Muslim community.
Meanwhile, seven ‘friends and associates’ of the two main suspects have been detained. Prime Minister Manuel Valls confirmed that the two Kouachi brothers were known to security services. But he added it was too early to say whether authorities had underestimated the threat they posed. A student, believed to be their brother-in-law, turned himself in after his name appeared on social media as a suspect.
All three of them are known to have been radicalized after the Iraq War of 2003. The two brothers were said to be infuriated by the killing of Muslims by western soldiers and the American jets. Officers said they had found a jihadist flag in their car which they abandoned before fleeing on foot. The French intelligence agency described them as ‘young hoodlums who became radical. They were also recruiting people to fight in Iraq.
MORE SHOOTINGS: Meanwhile, the bloodletting in the French Capital continued: A policewoman was shot in the back and killed when she stopped to investigate a traffic accident on Thursday. The gunman is believed to have been driving one of the cars. When the gunman attempted to flee after the shooting, a street cleaner tried to grapple with him but was shot in the face. The assailant appeared to be of North African origin and was thought to be wearing a bullet proof vest.
French Interior minister confirmed that there were links between Wednesday’s incident and the shooting in south Paris on Thursday. With the death of the female officer, the number of policemen killed has mounted to 3. Of the two officers killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre one was a Muslim.
In yet another incident on Thursday, an explosion was heard from a restaurant next to a mosque in Lyon, French TV channels said. No injuries have been reported in the blast.
The attacks come barely a day after 12 people were massacred at the magazine’s office in Paris.
Pen spills no blood
Hundreds of cartoons have flooded the internet following the massacre. Using the hashtag #jesuischarlie, artists shared their powerful and satirical sketches to advocate for free press, denounce violence and mourn their innocent colleagues from the French publication. Pens and pencils were used to represent the victims in many drawings, with some depicting sharpened pencils claiming retribution against their attackers. Supportive cartoons came from artists as far and wide as India, Egypt, Brazil, Canada, Spain and Belgium. An image by The Independent’s cartoonist Dave Brown showed a hand coming out of a Charlie Hebdo magazine with its middle finger displayed as blood-red ink spills across the page. Each cartoon resonated deeply with the words of the paper’s editor and cartoonist, Stephane Charbonnier, who in 2012 said ‘I would rather die standing than live kneeling,’ a year after the building had been firebombed for publishing a satirical cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed.
Hebdo will be back next week
The French satirical newspaper, whose staff was decimated in an Islamist attack will come out as scheduled next week, one of its surviving staffers told AFP on Thursday. Charlie Hebdo will publish next Wednesday to defiantly show that “stupidity will not win,” said columnist Patrick Pelloux, adding that the remaining staff will soon meet. “It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” he said. He added that the publication would have to be put together outside Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters which were not accessible following the massacre.
Executed officer was a Muslim
One of policemen to be executed on the streets of Paris was a Muslim, Ahmed Merabet. He was shot at point blank range even as he begged for his life. Shocking footage of the attack outside the Charlie Hebdo office shows Merabet on the ground and begging for mercy as he is killed casually by a gunshot to the head. Witnesses said he asked, ‘So you want to kill me?’ before the gunman replied ‘OK, chief’. As the French magazine vowed to publish next week in defiance of the massacre, one French mourner wrote: ‘Ahmed Merabet died protecting the innocent from hate. I salute him.’ Ahmed was a married father-of-two who lived in Bernay, France, with family.