The manhunt for brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who stormed into the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo the previous day and killed 10 civilians and two policemen, continued on Thursday morning as France woke up to a day of mourning.
The two brothers were spotted in the Picardy region in northern France, and large police forces were dispatched to the area.
Police now appear to be surrounding house near Crepy-en-Valois, to NE of Paris near where suspects spotted by garage owner #CharlieHebdo— Stuart Norval (@stuartf24) January 8, 2015
A third suspect - 18-year-old homeless man Hamid Mourad - has turned himself in at a police station in a small town in the eastern region after learning his name was linked to the attacks in the news and social media. Several other arrests have been made overnight in connection with the attack.
The manager of a gas station near the town of Villers-Cotterets recognized the Algerian brothers, saying they were in possession of "Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers." He said they were driving a gray Renault Clio and were hooded, sources close to the investigation confirmed.
According to the manager, the two brothers robbed the gas station and left with food and gas, but this report has not been officially confirmed.
One of the suspects, 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 his brother, Said, 34, 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.
In an interview with RTL radio Thursday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said preventing another attack "is our main concern," as he explained why authorities released photos of the two men along with a plea for witnesses to come forward.
France raised its terror alert system to the maximum and bolstered security with more than 800 extra soldiers to guard media offices, places of worship, transport and other sensitive areas. A nationwide minute of silence was held at noon, with many holding signs reading "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") in solidarity.
One police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said they were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network, and Cedric Le Bechec, a witness who encountered the escaping gunmen, quoted the attackers as saying: "You can tell the media that it's al-Qaeda in Yemen."
One witness to Wednesday's attack said the gunmen were so methodical he at first mistook them for an elite anti-terrorism squad. Then they fired on a police officer.
The masked, black-clad men with assault rifles stormed the offices near Paris' Bastille monument in the Wednesday noontime attack on the publication, which had long drawn condemnation and threats - it was firebombed in 2011 - for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures.
The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight for the paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier - widely known by his pen name Charb - killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman.
Shouting "Allahu akbar!" as they fired, the men used fluent, unaccented French as they called out the names of specific employees.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed, said prosecutor Francois Molins. He said 11 people were wounded - four of them seriously.
The other dead were identified as cartoonists Georges Wolinski and Berbard Verlhac, better known as Tignous, and Jean Cabut, known as "Cabu." Also killed was Bernard Maris, an economist who was a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio.
In a somber address to the nation Wednesday night, Hollande pledged to hunt down the killers, and pleaded with his compatriots to come together in a time of insecurity and suspicion.
"Let us unite, and we will win," he said. "Vive la France!"
Thousands of people later jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor the victims, waving pens and papers reading "Je suis Charlie" -"I am Charlie." Similar rallies were held in London's Trafalgar Square as well as Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels.
Fears had been running high in Europe that jihadis trained in warfare abroad would stage attacks at home. The French suspect in a deadly attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium had returned from fighting with extremists in Syria; and the man who rampaged in the south of France in 2012, killing three soldiers and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse, received paramilitary training in Pakistan.
Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have repeatedly threatened to attack France, which is conducting airstrikes against extremists in Iraq and fighting Islamic militants in Africa. Charb was specifically threatened in a 2013 edition of the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, which also included an article titled "France the Imbecile Invader."
A tweet from an al-Qaeda representative who communicated Wednesday with The Associated Press said the group was not claiming responsibility for the attack, but called it "inspiring."