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Hunt continues for brothers suspected over Charlie Hebdo attack

Cherif and Said Kouachi are believed to have been spotted by a petrol station manager earlier today,

Updated 11.30pm

France Newspaper Attack Source: AP/Press Association Images

ELITE FRENCH SPECIAL forces deployed helicopters in a night-time manhunt for the two brothers accused of slaughtering 12 people in an attack on a satirical magazine in Paris.

“The search will continue tonight with the help of five helicopters,” a police source told AFP in the tiny village of Villers-Cotterets, northeast of the capital, where the suspects earlier robbed a petrol station and abandoned their getaway car.

Watchlist

The two brothers suspected of carrying out the deadly attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had been on a US terror watch list “for years,” a US law enforcement official said.

Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are believed to have shot dead 12 people on Wednesday in the magazine’s Paris headquarters, had been “on our watch list for years,” the official told AFP.

The brothers, who are still on the run, were both flagged in a US database as terror suspects, and also on the no-fly list, meaning they were barred from flying into the United States.

Said Kouachi spent “a few months” in Yemen in 2011, receiving training from Al-Qaeda’s affiliate there in small arms combat and marksmanship among other skills, the New York Times reported, citing a senior US official.

Hunt in a forest

Turkey France Newspaper Attack Source: AP/Press Association Images

Fear gripped residents in a wooded region of northern France today where security forces hunted two brothers suspected of waging a Paris magazine massacre.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as elite police and paramilitary forces in their hundreds combed through an area in the Aisne region where the fugitives thought to be behind Wednesday’s bloodbath were spotted earlier.

Police searched garden huts, garages and anywhere else they could be hiding.

Suspects

Wearing black bulletproof vests and heavy helmets, the security forces repeated the same routine again and again — four or five of them silently surrounded a building, while two others pointed their automatic rifles, ready to shoot if the suspects tried to burst out.

A cemetery, the banks of a pond… nothing was left to chance as anxious residents of villages and towns on their path looked on.

On one occasion, 20 heavily armed security force officers surrounded a nearby house and stormed it, while journalists were kept away from the scene.

They were looking for Cherif Kouachi, 32, a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq, and his 34-year-old brother Said.

‘Loads of caves nearby’

France Newspaper Attack Armed police patrol in the village of Fleury, north east of Paris Source: AP/Press Association Images

“We live next to the forest,” said Roseline, a grandmother who lives in the small, picturesque village of Corcy.

I’m scared, night is falling and they may be hidden nearby.

Michel, a 55-year-old bus driver, said he was also scared. “I’ve gone round the house, closed the shutters, but there are loads of caves nearby and places where they grow mushrooms,” he said, suggesting they were ideal hiding places.

A maximum security alert declared in the French capital Wednesday had been expanded to the region where Thursday’s manhunt was taking place.

In the nearby town of Crepy-en-Valois, the continuous flow of security forces sparked a wave of fear and paranoia.

According to witnesses, several shops, including the local supermarket, closed for the whole day or at least part of it over fears owners would find themselves face to face with the fugitives.

Je Suis Charlie

Italy France Newspaper Attack People gather in front of the French Embassy in Rome Source: AP/Press Association Images

President Barack Obama visited the French Embassy in Washington tonight following the killings.

Thousands of people took to the streets in France and other countries again today to condemn the yesterday’s killings.

Many of the protesters carried placards bearing the “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) slogan that has become a global cry for solidarity in the wake of the attacks.

Some came armed with pens, a symbol of press freedom.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo told the gathering Parisians felt the need “to stand together and stick together”.

Identified

The fugitives were thought to be behind yesterday’s bloodbath at Charlie Hebdo magazine, the worst terrorist attack in France for half a century, which the gunmen said they carried out as revenge for the weekly’s repeated publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

About 24 hours into the manhunt, they were identified after robbing the village petrol station, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Paris, before fleeing again, possibly on foot and still armed with at least a Kalashnikov, police said.

Special police units rushed to the scene, backed by helicopters.

France Newspaper Attack Armed French police prevent journalists from following members of a special anti terrorism squad after the searched the village of Fleury, 80 kilometres northeast of Paris. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Petrol station

suspects Source: French police

Earlier, Paris extended the highest terror alert level north to include the northern area where the pair were seen.

The manager of a petrol station near Villers-Cotteret in the northern Aisne region spotted the men, according to sources close to the manhunt.

The manager “recognised the two men suspected of having participated in the attack against Charlie Hebdo”, the source said.

The village is about 90km north east of Paris and between the French capital and the town of Reims where police operations took place last night.

Seven people have already been detained in the hunt for two brothers suspected of carrying out the fatal attack on the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Confirming earlier comments by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a judicial source, who refused to be named, said men and women close to the two brothers were currently being questioned by police, without saying where they had been detained.

Valls, meanwhile, told RTL radio that the two suspects were known to intelligence services and were “no doubt” being followed before Wednesday’s attack.

The news that two suspects have been spotted comes as a minute’s silence was held across France and worldwide at 11am GMT.

It’s also been confirmed by senior staff at Charlie Hebdo that the magazine will be published next week.

The masked, black-clad gunmen burst into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday morning, killing some of France’s most outspoken journalists and two policemen, before jumping into a car and escaping.

Police have issued arrest warrants for Cherif Kouachi, 32, a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq, and his 34-year-old brother Said. Both were born in Paris.

Vigils took place around the world last night in solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack and #JeSuisCharlie is the top trending hashtag worldwide.

Tánaiste Joan Burton this morning described yesterday described the attacks as ‘abhorrent’, paying tribute to France’s centuries-old tradition of secularism:

“France has a very very long tradition, going right back to the French revolution of being able to separate constitutionally in France, which is, if you like, one of the countries which has founded on the constitutional principles that come through to us today.”

“The separation between religious matters and state matters and that has been the French way now for hundreds of years,” she said.

Asked whether Irish media should refrain from publishing controversial cartoons, Burton said such decisions are for editors alone.

“In Ireland we have, thankfully, a free press, it’s one of the cornerstones of our democracy and I’m not going to tell the press how to do it’s business,” she said.

In darkness

In the City of Light, the most famous landmark went dark earlier this evening, as the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights.

- © AFP, 2015 with additional reporting by Christine Bohan, Rónán Duffy, Hugh O’Connell and Aoife Barry.

Read: Je suis Charlie: Charlie Hebdo website back online – with one message > 

Read: Across the world, vigils for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack >

Read: Manhunt for gunmen in Paris after twelve killed in massacre at satirical magazine offices > 

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