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Youngest suspect in Charlie Hebdo attack surrenders, cops release pictures of other two

An 18-year-old implicated alongside two brothers in the bloody attack against a satirical weekly in Paris has surrendered. Police have released pictures of the other two suspects.

world Updated: Jan 08, 2015 20:34 IST
Charlie Hebdo,Paris shooting,Paris

Police on Thursday hunted for two heavily armed men, one with possible links to al Qaeda, in the methodical killing of 12 people at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that caricatured the Prophet Muhammed, as France began a day of national mourning for what its president called "an act of exceptional barbarism."

Paris Police also published photos of the two brothers, 32-year-old Cherif Kouachi and 34-year-old Said, wanted as suspects and said arrest warrants had been issued against them.

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

One of the suspects, Cherif, had already served time on terrorism charges and had a history of funneling jihadi fighters to Iraq. Cherif was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency.

Handout photos released by French Police in Paris of suspects Cherif Kouachi (L), aged 32, and his brother Said Kouachi (R). (AFP Photo)

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.

A third man, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered 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, said Paris prosecutor's spokesperson Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre. She did not specify his relationship to the Kouachi brothers.

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 planned for noon.

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.

Methodical attack

The drama began in broad daylight in a quiet Paris street when the masked, black-clad men with assault rifles stormed the offices near Paris' Bastille monument in the Wednesday noontime attack as the journalists were in an editorial meeting, first shooting a person in the reception area.

The publication had long drawn condemnation and threats - it was firebombed in 2011 - for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirised other religions and political figures.

One witness to Wednesday's attack said the gunmen were so methodical he at first mistook them for an elite anti-terrorism squad.

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 spokesperson.

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. One person survived by hiding under a table.

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.

Chilling amateur video footage filmed after the carnage then showed them outside, running toward a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement. Then they fired on a police officer.

Two gunmen strolled out to a black car waiting below, one of them calmly shooting a wounded police officer in the head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who watched in fear from his home across the street.

"They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace," said the witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he feared for his safety.

"Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo," one of the men shouted in French, according to video shot from a nearby building.

People gather to pay their respects for the victims of terror attack against satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. (AP Photo)

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."

After fleeing, the attackers collided with another vehicle, then carjacked another car before disappearing in broad daylight, Molins said.

Le Bechec, the witness who encountered the gunmen in another part of Paris, described on his Facebook page seeing two men "get out of a bullet-ridden car with a rocket-launcher in hand, eject an old guy from his car and calmly say hi to the public, saying 'you can tell the media that it's al Qaeda in Yemen.'"

Call for unity

In a sombre address to the nation on Wednesday night, President Francois 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!"

Hollande called the massacre "an act of exceptional barbarity" and "undoubtedly a terrorist attack."

"Nothing can divide us, nothing should separate us. Freedom will always be stronger than barbarity," said the president, who ordered flags flown at half-mast for the next three days.

Hollande called for "national unity", adding that "several terrorist attacks had been foiled in recent weeks".

Thousands of people later jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honour 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.

"This is the darkest day of the history of the French press," said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

Provocative history

Charlie Hebdo's offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 when it published a cartoon of Mohammed under the title "Sharia Hebdo".

Despite being taken to court under anti-racism laws, the weekly continued to publish controversial cartoons of the Muslim prophet.

In September 2012, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of a naked Mohammed as violent protests were taking place in several countries over a low-budget film, titled "Innocence of Muslims", which was made in the United States and insulted the prophet.

Charb was specifically threatened in a 2013 edition of the al Qaeda magazine Inspire, which also included an article titled "France the
Imbecile Invader." Charb had lived under police protection after receiving death threats.

The attack took place on the day the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo was published. It featured an eerily premonitory cartoon of an armed militant noting "Still no attacks in France. Wait! We have until the end of January to send greetings" -- a reference to France's tradition of wishing someone a Happy New Year before January 31. Charb was the artist.

The attacks revived fears of a return to the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s when France, which is home to Europe's largest Muslim population, was hit by a wave of extremist violence.

In 1995, a bomb in a commuter train blamed on Algerian extremists exploded at the Saint Michel metro station in Paris, killing eight and wounding 119.

Al Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah killed seven people in and around the southern city of Toulouse in 2012. His victims included three French soldiers and four Jews -- three children and a rabbi.

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.

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."

(With inputs from AP and AFP)

Read more:
France in mourning; police hunt for Charlie Hebdo attack suspects
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First Published: Jan 08, 2015 07:17 IST