Hostage-taking in French town, Hebdo suspects sighted

2015-01-09 11:20

At least one hostage was seized in a town northeast of Paris today during a huge manhunt for two brothers suspected of killing 12 people at a satirical weekly publication.

Five helicopters were seen flying over an industrial zone outside the town of Dammartin-en-Goële and the French interior minister confirmed that an operation was taking place there.

A police source said the two suspects had been sighted in the town, where at least one person was taken hostage.

Before night fell yesterday, officers had been focusing on their search about 40km away on the woodland village of Corcy, not far from a service station where police sources said the brothers had been sighted in ski masks a day after the shootings at the newspaper.

The fugitive suspects are French-born sons of Algerian-born parents, both in their early 30s, and already under police surveillance. One was jailed for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq a decade ago to fight as part of an Islamist cell.

Police said they were “armed and dangerous”.

United States and European sources close to the investigation said yesterday that one of the brothers, Said Kouachi, was in Yemen in 2011 for several months training with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the group’s most active affiliates.

A Yemeni official familiar with the matter said the Yemen government was aware of the possibility of a connection between Said and the group, and was looking into any possible links.

US government sources said Said and his brother Cherif were listed in two US security databases, a highly classified database containing information on 1.2 million possible counter-terrorism suspects, called Tide, and the much smaller “no fly” list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, an interagency unit.

US television network ABC reported that the brothers had been listed in the databases for “years”.

Dave Joly, a spokesperson for the Terrorist Screening Center, said he could neither confirm nor deny if the Kouachis were listed in counter-terrorism databases.

While world leaders described Wednesday’s attack on the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo as an assault on democracy, al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch praised the gunmen as “knight(s) of truth”.

Charlie Hebdo, where journalists were gunned down during an editorial meeting, had been firebombed in the past for printing cartoons that poked fun at militant Islam and some that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

Two of those killed were police posted to protect the paper.

Amid local media reports of isolated incidents of violence directed at Muslims in France, President François Hollande and his Socialist government have called on the French not to blame the Islam faith for the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Hollande has held talks with opposition leaders and, in a rare move, was due to invite Marine le Pen, leader of the resurgent anti-immigrant National Front, to his Élysée Palace for discussions today.

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