France Mourns—and Hunts
A policewoman was shot dead this morning while law enforcement searched for the Charlie Lebdo killers. Meanwhile, the nation grieves.
Gunshots rang out in Paris this morning on a second day of deadly violence that has stunned the French capital. A policewoman died after being shot in the back less than 24 hours after a deadly terrorist attack on a satirical magazine.
French police and security officials, who are hunting two brothers they suspect of murdering 12 people in an assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, are searching for links between the two attacks. Officials described Thursday’s shooting as another terrorist attack. Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman said they were braced for a “wave” of terrorism. "It's probably not the end,” he said. “We are ready to face it. We will fight."
Heavily armored commando units were deployed at the southern edge of Paris as a second major manhunt got underway on what was supposed to be an official day of mourning. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who rushed out of an emergency cabinet meeting about the previous attack, arrived in the suburb of Malakoff to say that the gunman had escaped. Three armed killers are now at large.
Huge peaceful rallies held in memory of the 10 journalists and two police officers slain Wednesday gave way to sporadic outbursts of violence overnight. Three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque in Le Mans; shots were fired at a Muslim prayer hall in Port-la-Nouvelle; and an explosive device was detonated at a kebab shop near a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone. No one was injured in any of the apparent reprisal attacks.
Shortly after dawn, there was another outbreak of deadly force. One witness said the gunfire began after a traffic collision, which drew the attention of a nearby police officer. A street sweeper was caught in the crossfire as a gunman fired at the officer, fatally wounding her in the back. The second victim’s injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.
Officials have not released a description of the latest shooter, but they have named the two men they believe were responsible for the deadly raid on Charlie Hebdo.
Chérif Kouachi, 32, and Saïd Kouachi, 34, are French citizens of Algerian descent who both appeared in previous counterterror investigations.
Unconfirmed reports in the French media claimed that the brothers were spotted at a gas station in northern France on Thursday. It is alleged they fired shots as they stole food and gas from the store near Villers-Cotterets in the Aisne region, about 50 miles northeast of Paris.
Security officials told Agence France-Presse that the gas station manager said he had recognized the two men. Police are searching nearby towns and the forest.
According to a report in Le Monde, Chérif was detained by France from May to October 2010, but terror charges against him were dropped in 2013. His older brother, Saïd, also appeared in the dossier on that case, but, again, for lack of evidence, the police did not investigate him further.
According to Le Monde and Le Parisien, they were part of what investigators are calling a “family cell,” but it is unclear if that was linked to any of the major terror networks.
The third suspect, an 18-year-old named Hamyd Mourad, who turned himself in, is part of the same extended family. He has the same family name, Murad, as the wife of Chérif, and surrendered to police in Charleville-Mézières in the Ardennes, where she comes from. Mrs. Kouachi works at a nursery and has worn the veil since she made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 2008.
Chérif had been known to the police for years. He styled himself Abu Issen and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008, with half the sentence suspended, for his involvement in what was known as the Buttes-Chaumont network. This group, under the authority of the supposed “emir” Farid Benyettou, sent would-be jihadists to Iraq to join the ranks of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, whose organization was the predecessor of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS as it is widely known. Chérif was arrested in Paris in January 2005 as he was about to board a plane to Damascus along with a man named Thamer Bouchnak.
When Chérif got out of prison, he worked at the fish counter of a supermarket. His lawyer at the time told Le Parisien he remembers him as “an apprentice ‘loser,’ a delivery boy in a ball cap who smoked hash and delivered pizzas to buy his drugs, a clueless kid who did not know what to do with his life, and overnight, met people who gave him the impression he was important.”
Two years later, the counterterror police suspected him of plotting the prison escape of Smaïn Ait Ali Belkacem, one of the brains behind the terror attacks of 1995. Another man arrested in that supposed plot, Djamel Beghal, was identified as a member of al Qaeda in 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, and served time for plotting to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris.
Two witnesses outside the Charlie Hebdo office building quoted the Kouachi brothers claiming they were members of al Qaeda. One bystander said he was told to tell the media that they were from al Qaeda in Yemen, or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Security experts have suggested the brothers must have had some kind of military or weapons training in order to have carried out the attacks with such an air of professionalism. One police officer was coolly dispatched as he lay wounded on the sidewalk. A witness said 10 members of the Charlie Hebdo staff were assassinated after being asked for by name.
The magazine has been under threat since 2006, when it chose to publish a series of controversial cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. The offices were firebombed in 2011; no one was hurt but a permanent police car was subsequently stationed outside. A Charlie Hebdo reporter said that security provision had been relaxed in the last month or so and the police car disappeared. “They must have noticed that. They really waited for the right moment,” Antonio Fischetti told Libération.
Although the blood-spattered offices will be off-limits, staff have vowed to continue producing the magazine. Columnist Patrick Pelloux said they had no choice. “It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” he told AFP.
In an edition dedicated to the five cartoonists and five journalists who lost their lives, the print run will be extended from its usual 60,000 to produce one million copies.