Police hunt three Frenchmen after 12 killed in Paris attack


Police are hunting three French nationals, including two brothers from the Paris region, after suspected Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at a satirical magazine on Wednesday, a police official and government source said.

The hooded attackers stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly known for lampooning Islam and other religions, in the most deadly militant attack on French soil in decades.

French police staged a huge manhunt for the attackers who escaped by car after shooting dead some of France's top cartoonists as well as two police officers. About 800 soldiers were brought in to shore up security across the capital.

Police issued a document to forces across the region saying the three men were being sought for murder in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The document, reviewed by a Reuters correspondent, named them as Said Kouachi, born in 1980, Cherif Kouachi, born in 1982, and Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996.

The police source said one of them had been identified by his identity card, which had been left in the getaway car.

The Kouachi brothers were from the Paris region while Mourad was from the area of the northeastern city of Reims, the government source told Reuters.

The police source said one of the brothers had previously been tried on terrorism charges.

Cherif Kouachi was charged with criminal association related to a terrorist enterprise in 2005 after he was arrested before leaving for Iraq to join Islamist militants. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008, according to French media.

A police source said anti-terrorism police searching for the suspects had been preparing an operation in Reims, and that there had already been a number of searches at locations across the country as part of the investigation.

A Reuters reporter in Reims saw anti-terrorism police secure a building before a forensics team entered an apartment there while dozens of residents looked on. They did not appear to be preparing a major raid.

A government official told Reuters there had been no arrests.

During the attack, one of the assailants was captured on video outside the building shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Greatest) as shots rang out. Another walked over to a police officer lying wounded on the street and shot him point-blank with an assault rifle before the two calmly climbed into a black car and drove off.

A police union official said there were fears of further attacks, and described the scene in the offices as carnage, with a further four wounded fighting for their lives.

Tens of thousands joined impromptu rallies across France in memory of the victims and to support freedom of expression.

The government declared the highest state of alert, tightening security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and department stores as the search for the assailants got under way.

Some Parisians expressed fears about the effect of the attack on community relations in France, which has Europe's biggest Muslim population.

“This is bad for everyone – particularly for Muslims despite the fact that Islam is a fine religion. It risks making a bad situation worse,” Cecile Electon, an arts worker who described herself as an atheist, told Reuters at a vigil on Paris's Place de la Republique attended by 35,000 people.

Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders of all faiths and has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. Jihadists online repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its ridicule.

The last tweet on its account mocked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State, which has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and called for “lone wolf” attacks on French soil.

There was no claim of responsibility. However, a witness quoted by 20 Minutes daily newspaper said one of the assailants cried out before getting into his car: “Tell the media that it is al Qaeda in Yemen!”

Supporters of Islamic State and other jihadist groups hailed the attack on Internet sites. Governments throughout Europe have expressed fear that fighters returning from Iraq or Syria could launch attacks in their home countries.

“Today the French Republic as a whole was the target,” President Francois Hollande said in a prime-time evening television address. He declared a national day of mourning on Thursday.

EXECUTIONS

An amateur video broadcast by French television stations shows two hooded men in black outside the building. One of them spots a wounded policeman lying on the ground, hurries over to him and shoots him dead at point-blank range with a rifle.

In another clip on television station iTELE, the men are heard shouting in French: “We have killed Charlie Hebdo. We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad.”

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailants killed a man at the entrance of the building to force entry. They then headed to the second floor and opened fire on an editorial meeting attended by eight journalists, a policeman tasked with protecting the magazine's editorial director and a guest.

“What we saw was a massacre. Many of the victims had been executed, most of them with wounds to the head and chest,” Patrick Hertgen, an emergencies services medic called out to treat the injured, told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter saw groups of armed policeman patrolling around department stores in the shopping district and there was an armed gendarme presence outside the Arc de Triomphe.

U.S. President Barack Obama described the attack as cowardly and evil, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among European leaders condemning the shooting.

The dead included co-founder Jean “Cabu” Cabut and editor-in-chief Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier.

France last year reinforced its anti-terrorism laws and was on alert after calls from Islamist militants to attack its citizens and interests in reprisal for French military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa.

The last major attack in Paris was in the mid-1990s when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) carried out a spate of attacks, including the bombing of a commuter train in 1995 which killed eight people and injured 150.

Families of Toulouse victims seek gag order on leaked recordings


Relatives of the victims of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah will seek to prevent the media from broadcasting recordings of the late French Muslim gunman.

Attorneys for the bereaved relatives said Monday that they are seeking a gag order on the recordings after negotiations between Merah and French police were aired by the French television channel TF1. Merah murdered three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19.

The conversations took place as police lay siege to Merah’s home in Toulouse. He was killed in a shootout on March 23.

“You are facing a man who does not fear death,” a masculine voice believed to belong to Merah is heard saying in the recordings, which were aired June 8. “I love death as much as you love life.”

Samia Maktouf, an attorney for one of the families, said that “The victims of this attack are outraged.” The families’ main concern is that Merah’s words will inspire copycats.

“Next, videos of Merah will be disseminated,” Maktouf said. “This will cause irrevocable damage.”

Merah made a video recording of his attack on the Otzar Hatorah school. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network obtained the footage but decided not to air it.

French police are investigating how TF1 obtained the recordings, which may have been leaked by the police.

The umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, CRIF, expressed its “shock and outrage” at the airing of the recordings. The Council for Audiovisual Communication, a French professional union, advised other media not to air them.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned the decision to run extracts of the negotiations. He also said Monday that he is concerned about a “new breed of anti-Semitism” in France. His comments came the day after the two suspects in the July 5 attack on a Jewish teenager traveling on a train between Toulouse and Lyon were detained by police.

“There is anti-Semitism that exists in our neighbourhoods, in our suburbs,” said Valls, according to the European Jewish Press and the French news agency AFP. “There are in our neighborhoods youths or younger persons who in the name of a collective identity they feel is under attack decide on the most ignorant course, the most dangerous to our values, to perpetuate attacks on Jews. They consider Jews to be the enemy.”

The 17-year-old victim of the train attack reportedly is a student at the Ozar Hatorah school. The teen, who reportedly was wearing a kippah and tzitzit, was accosted verbally before he was beaten by two assailants.

“Today, [people] don’t think twice about insulting or hitting a fellow citizen because he is identifiably Jewish in his appearance,” Valls added in an interview with a Jewish radio station.

According to the French Jewish Protection Service, there were more than 90 anti-Semitic incidents in France in the 10 days following the school shooting.

Footage filmed by French gunman sent to Al Jazeera says police source


Video footage filmed by the French gunman Mohamed Merah during his bloody shooting spree has been sent to the Al Jazeera television network in Paris, a police source said on Monday.

Al Jazeera received a computer memory drive containing a montage of footage accompanied by Islamist war songs, and sent the package on to police on Monday, the source close to the investigation told Reuters.

An Al Jazeera employee contacted by Reuters confirmed the report.

The package was dated Wednesday, March 21, the day that police surrounded Merah in his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse after a massive manhunt, according to a report in the Parisian daily newspaper.

French special forces shot the young Islamist the following day after a 30-hour siege.

“Investigators are trying to find out whether the letter was posted Tuesday night by Mohamed Merah himself or by an accomplice Wednesday morning,” the newspaper wrote.

Merah, who said he was inspired by al Qaeda, admitted to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi in a spate of shootings that sent shockwaves through France.

The Paris prosecutor in charge of the case said last week that the Merah had filmed each of the shootings.

Reporting By Gerard Bon; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Andrew Heavens

French police seek to intimidate gunman with blasts


Three blasts at the building were the suspect in seven shootings in southwest France is holed up were intended to intimidate him and there has not been an assault to get him out of his apartment, the interior ministry said on Thursday.

“They were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender,” ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told Reuters. “There is no assault.”

A police source and a deputy Toulouse mayor had said earlier that an assault had started after three loud blasts had been heard at the building following a more than 20-hour standoff.

Police have been trying to get 24-year-old Mohamed Merah to turn himself over after he fired through the door at them while they tried to storm his apartment in the suburbs of Toulouse in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Reporting by Yves Clarisse, writing by Leigh Thomas, editing by Geert De Clercq

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