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Said (L) and Cherif Kouachi
Cornered Charlie Hebdo suspects 'want to die as martyrs'
Helicopters, security forces backed by ambulances stream into Dammartin-en-Goele, some 40km from Paris after Said and Cherif Kouachi hole up there with hostage; French officials make phone contact.

The two cornered suspects in Wednesday's brutal terror attack "want to die as martyrs", a French lawmaker said Friday, after brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi seized a hostage and holed up a town some 40 km from Paris.

 

Audrey Taupenas, spokeswoman for Dammartin-en-Goele, said officials established phone contact with the suspects in order to negotiate the safe evacuation of a school near the printing plant where the men are cornered. She said the suspects agreed.

 

 

Yves Albarello, a lawmaker who said he was inside the command post, said the two brothers told i-Tele on Friday they "want to die as martyrs."

 

French anti-terrorist forces surrounding the building want to start a dialogue and have not launched an assault, a French Interior Ministry spokesman said.

 

"The priority is to establish a dialogue," Pierre-Henry Brandet said in a message tweeted by the ministry. "This can take a long time, hours and sometimes days," he added. 

 

The two brothers retreated to the printing house after they hijacked a car and police followed them to the town near the French capital's main airport.

 

Security forces backed by a convoy of ambulances streamed into the small industrial town northeast of Paris, in a massive operation to seize the men suspected of carrying out France's deadliest terror attack in decades. One of the men had been convicted of terrorism charges in 2008, and a US official said both brothers were on the American no-fly list.


French police special forces have cornered the suspects.
French police special forces have cornered the suspects.

 

At least three helicopters hovered above the town. Nearby Charles de Gaulle Airport closed two runways to arrivals to avoid interfering in the standoff, an airport spokesman said. Schools went into lockdown and the town appealed to residents to stay inside their houses.

 

"All residents are requested to remain at home. Children are to be kept safe in school," the municipal website said.

Police and anti-terrorist forces blocked all entries to the town of about 8,000, clearly seeking to limit the scale of any siege.

  

The siege unfolded in the early morning hours, after the suspects hijacked a car amid gunfire in the town of Montagny Sainte Felicite, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Paris, according to police and security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Police had chased the vehicle at high speed along the nearby N2 motorway towards Paris as gunshots rang out and police trucks, ambulances and armored vehicles descended on the area.

 

Thousands of French security forces have mobilized to find Cherif and Said Kouachi after Wednesday's attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in central Paris, which killed 12 people.

 

French police helicopter chasing the two suspects. (Photo: AFP) (Photo: AFP)
French police helicopter chasing the two suspects. (Photo: AFP)

  

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed Friday morning that an operation was underway in Dammartin, speaking moments after an emergency meeting with President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and top police officials.

 

The Kouachi brothers were named as the chief suspects after Said's identity card was left behind in their abandoned getaway car. They were holed up Friday inside CTF Creation Tendance Decouverte, a printing house. Xavier Castaing, the chief Paris police spokesman, and town hall spokeswoman Audrey Taupenas said there appeared to be one hostage inside. The police official, who was on the scene, confirmed a hostage.

 



Location where suspects are holed up (Google Maps) (Map: Google)
Location where suspects are holed up (Google Maps)

 

Christelle Alleume, who works across the street, said a round of gunfire interrupted her coffee break Friday morning.

 

"We heard shots and we returned very fast because everyone was afraid," she told i-Tele. "We had orders to turn off the lights and not approach the windows."

 

The police official said security forces were preparing to intervene. The town's website called on residents to stay home and said children would be kept at school.

 

Valls has said both brothers were known to intelligence services. The two have been on the run since the Wednesday attack in central Paris, and thousands of French security forces have mobilized to find them.

 

   

Aftermath of attack at Charlie Hebdo offices
Aftermath of attack at Charlie Hebdo offices

  

Cherif Kouachi, 32, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency. He said he was outraged at the torture of Iraqi inmates at the US prison at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad and "really believed in the idea" of fighting the US-led coalition in Iraq.

 

He and 34-year-old Said should be considered "armed and dangerous," French police said in a bulletin early Thursday, appealing for witnesses after a fruitless search in the city of Reims, in French Champagne country.

 

Thousands of French security forces have mobilized to find the brothers after the attack on Wednesday.

 

Survivors of the bloody assault on Charlie Hebdo said the attackers claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda in Yemen. The weekly newspaper had been repeatedly threatened -- and its offices were firebombed in 2011 -- after spoofing Islam and depicting the Prophet Mohammed in caricature. 


Londoners show solidarity with France. (Photo: MCT)
Londoners show solidarity with France. (Photo: MCT)
 

 

A senior US official said Thursday the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to join extremist groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there.

 

Cherif was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for his links to a network sending jihadis to fight American forces in Iraq.

 

Both were also on the US no-fly list, a senior US counterterrorism official said. The American officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.

 

Meanwhile, the suspect in the shooting on Thursday of a policewoman in a southern suburb of Paris before fleeing the scene was a member of the same jihadist group as the Kouachi brothers.

 

President Hollande called for tolerance after the attack. "France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty -- and thus of resistance -- breathed freely," he said.

 

Nine people, members of the brothers' entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly attack at Charlie Hebdo, were questioned for information on the attackers, Cazeneuve said in a statement.

 

Eiffel Tower goes dark to mourn attack (Photo: EPA)
Eiffel Tower goes dark to mourn attack (Photo: EPA)

  

A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.

 

The Kouachi brothers -- born in Paris to Algerian parents -- were well-known to French counterterrorism authorities. Cherif Kouachi, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq.

 

From left: Cherif and Said Kouachi (Photo: AP)
From left: Cherif and Said Kouachi
 

 

Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures. The weekly paper had caricatured the Prophet Mohammed, and a sketch of Islamic State's leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Nothing has been tweeted since.

 

Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack.

 

Four victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
Four victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack (Photo: EPA)

 

Charlie Hebdo is planning a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.

 

Editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who was among those slain, "symbolized secularism ... the combat against fundamentalism," his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, said on BFM-TV.

 

"He was ready to die for his ideas," she said.

 

Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadis trained in warfare. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria -- headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda have threatened France -- home to Western Europe's largest Muslim population.

 

 

The French suspect in a deadly 2014 attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium had returned from fighting with extremists in Syria; and the man who rampaged in southern France in 2012, killing three soldiers and four people at a Jewish school, received paramilitary training in Pakistan.

 


First published: 09.01.15, 10:46
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