The French manhunt for two brothers suspected of killing 12 people in and around the offices of a satirical weekly newspaper in Paris continued late into a second night Thursday, with as many as 88,000 police scouring an area 50 miles north of the capital.
The manhunt for brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, Paris natives reportedly with years of links to al Qaida, focused on the towns of Villers-Cotterets, Longpont and Corcy after a gas station attendant said the two men had robbed him earlier Thursday, stealing food and gas.
French news reports said the brothers were still driving a gray Renault Clio that they had hijacked Wednesday in Paris after they abandoned their black Citroen getaway car. According to the reports, the gas station attendant told authorities the two men were keeping their weapons, including AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, visible in the back of the car.
Police found the national identity card of one of the brothers, reportedly Said, in the abandoned getaway car.
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There were, however, no further reports of sightings of the brothers. While media reports spoke of “a tightening noose,” police offered no evidence that an arrest was imminent.
Earlier Thursday, French police called the fatal shooting of a policewoman Thursday morning in a Paris suburb an act of terrorism, but there was no indication of a direct link between that attack and the Wednesday assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, though the attacker was dressed similarly to the suspects in Wednesday’s killings.
One day after what’s being called the worst terrorist attack in modern French history, the details of the murder spree became a bit clearer. Police are clearly focusing on the two brothers, one of whom was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to prison for recruiting youths to join extremist Islamist groups and fight in Iraq.
According to French news reports, French security services had both brothers on their radar and had been closely monitoring the actions of Cherif this summer. But, they said, they had no indication that an attack was being planned.
In addition, while security had been added to the Charlie Hebdo offices recently, the addition of a lone officer was hardly enough to stop a surprise, determined attack.
The dead included a police officer who served as the newspaper publisher’s bodyguard, another police officer, Ahmed Merabet, who was executed as he lay on the ground outside the offices, five famous cartoonists, an economist, a copy editor, a janitor, a visiting former staff member and a columnist.
How many gunmen were involved in the killings remained uncertain. After naming the Kouachis’ 18-year-old brother-in-law, Hamyd Mourad, as the suspected getaway driver, French authorities told the newspaper Le Monde early Thursday that he faced no charges in the incident after he surrendered voluntarily.
French authorities said seven other people had been detained for questioning in the case, but their connection to the suspects was unknown. But in their alert to other European countries to be on the lookout for the Kourachi brothers – visas and border checks are not required to travel throughout much of Europe – French authorities did not mention other suspects, European officials who have seen the alert said.