Live coverage: Police close in on killers
Dammartin-en-Goele: A hostage was being held as a manhunt for the men believed responsible for the Paris massacre late on Friday night [Australian time] closed in on a town north-east of the French capital.
Police swooped on the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, 41 kilometres outside Paris after reports of gunshots and an attempted carjacking.
Two suspects – Said Kouachi, 34, and his 32-year-old brother Cherif – were holed up with a hostage at a small printing works in the town.
Special forces were deployed to confront the killers who have been at large since gunning down 12 people at the office of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.
Three helicopters, including a large military craft, hovered over the town and negotiators were brought in. Media reported that the brothers had indicated they were prepared to die for their cause.
Armed and flack-jacketed police blocked all access to the area, waving vehicles away. “It is very dangerous here,” we were told. “Drive further away.”
School children were detained in their classrooms and the town’s residents were told to stay home, turn off all lights and lay low.
A string of emergency vehicles sped through the roadblock into the town, including an ambulance and convoys of police.
The small town of Dammartin-en-Geoele is set among picturesque green fields. It is 13.5 kilometres from Charles De Gaulle international airport where several runways were closed.
Earlier on Friday, elite counter-terrorist police surrounded three hamlets 70 kilometers north-east of Paris in an effort to find the Kouachi brothers. The villages – Corcy, Fleury, and Longpont – border a dense forest larger than the city of Paris.
The French government has mobilised 80,000 police and soldiers across the country to protect public buildings and join the hunt, one of the biggest in the nation’s history, as the country mourned those who died in the attack.
The security forces also guarded the main roads into Paris, amid fears the still-armed terrorists might head back to the capital to commit more atrocities.
The national day of mourning was marred by some violence – with reports of attacks on mosques, and the deadly shooting of a policewoman in southern Paris, which authorities said was unconnected to the Hebdo massacre.
The Hebdo killers had initially evaded police on Wednesday by abandoning their car. However an ID card they left behind led police to name them as Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his 34-year-old brother, Said.
They held up a petrol station on Thursday morning, taking petrol and food, but the manager recognised them and called police, and anti-terrorist officers swooped on the area near Villers-Cotterets, north-east of Paris.
Officers conducted door-to-door searches of nearby towns and scoured farms and woodland using night-vision equipment and dogs after the gunmen’s new stolen car was found abandoned nearby.
According to one report they even scoured a large cave for the brothers.
After hours of unsuccessful search into Thursday night some units returned to Paris and five helicopters joined the hunt.
French officials said 11 people had been taken into custody in connection with the attack, including the Kouachi brothers’ 18-year-old brother in law, and more than 90 witnesses had been interviewed.
It has emerged that the brothers, Paris-born of Algerian descent, both had links to al-Qaeda.
Cherif Kouachi had spent 18 months in prison from 2008 for recruiting Islamist fighters for al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq.
And the other brother, Said, was believed to have trained with al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen in 2011.
Both were on US terrorist watch lists and French authorities came under pressure to explain how they had not been under closer surveillance.
French media reported that Cherif had been a member of the so-called Buttes Chaumont network, based in a northern Paris neighbourhood: petty criminals, usually Muslim, radicalised by Islamic preachers to fight against US forces in Iraq.
He was arrested in 2005 trying to travel to Damascus, and sentenced for “preparing to commit acts of terrorism”.
Thursday was a national day of mourning in France for the 12 who died during the attack.
Bells tolled across Paris from the towers of Notre Dame after a minute’s silence at midday, and traumatised Parisians left improvised shrines made of candles, flowers, posters and pens at the police roadblocks surrounding the Hebdo offices.
In the evening the lights on the Eiffel Tower were symbolically extinguished to honour the dead.
On Thursday morning, in the south Paris suburb of Montrouge a man wearing a flakjacket and armed with an assault weapon shot a policewoman. The attack also left a streetsweeper injured. The policewoman later died of her injuries.
However Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said that there was no known link to the Hebdo attack.
“The succession of these two extremely violent dramas aimed at press freedom and the police must be met with dignity and general condemnation,” he said.
Fears of reprisals grew among France’s large Muslim community after reports of attacks on mosques in the 24 hours after the Hebdo attack.
“Everybody is looking at us as if we did it,” one Muslim told the BBC in the Paris suburb where one of the attackers lived.
Thursday saw a series of top-level government meetings in response to the attack on Hebdo, including one between President Francois Hollande and his predecessor and opposition leader Nicholas Sarkozy.
Mr Sarkozy said the attack on Hebdo had been “an attack by fanatics committed against civilisation”.
Staff of Charlie Hebdo vowed their magazine would come out again next week – with a million copies to t on sale.
France has been in the midst of one of the largest manhunts in its history after masked men brandishing Kalashnikov assault weapons shot at people at the magazine’s offices. Famous for its biting commentary and cheeky — often offensive — cartoons, Charlie Hebdo had earlier in the day tweeted a cartoon of an Islamic State emir.
Tensions mounted yesterday after a policewoman was shot and killed just outside Paris, although there’s no indication the incident is connected to the earlier attack.