French police ID gunmen who killed 12 in attack on newspaper

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Masked gunman run towards a victim of their gun fire  outside the  French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's office, in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. Paris residents captured chilling video images of two masked gunmen shooting a police officer after an attack at a French satirical newspaper. In the video, the gunmen armed with assault rifles are seen running up to an injured police officer, who lies squirming on the ground. The police officer raises his hands up before one of the assailants shoots him in the head at a close range.  (AP Photo) NO SALES


Masked
gunman run towards a victim of their gun fire outside the French
satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s office, in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 7,
2015. Paris residents captured chilling video images of two masked
gunmen shooting a police officer after an attack at a French satirical
newspaper. In the video, the gunmen armed with assault rifles are seen
running up to an injured police officer, who lies squirming on the
ground. The police officer raises his hands up before one of the
assailants shoots him in the head at a close range. AP

PARIS — Police identified three men, including two brothers, as
suspects in the attack at the offices of weekly satirical newspaper
Charlie Hebdo, as security officers fanned out around the Paris region
in a manhunt.

CNN said one suspect was described as 18-years old, while the
brothers, who were reportedly born and raised in France, were aged 32
and 33.

A witness said at least one of the gunmen spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al-Qaeda.

Amateur video caught an attacker shouting in French, “We avenged the
Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo,” but shouted “Allahu akbar!” —
“God is great” — in Arabic.

The masked gunmen stormed the offices of a satirical newspaper that
caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, methodically killing 12 people
Wednesday, including the editor, before escaping in a car. It was
France’s deadliest terrorist attack in half a century.

Shouting “Allahu akbar!” as they fired, the men did the noon-time
attack on the weekly paper Charlie Hebdo, located near Paris’ Bastille
monument.

The publication’s depictions of Islam and Islamic extremists have
drawn condemnation and threats before — it was firebombed in 2011 —
although it also satirized other religions and political figures.

One police official said the men had links to a Yemeni terrorist
network. Witnesses of the attackers’ escape through Paris said one
claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have repeatedly threatened
to attack France, which is conducting airstrikes against extremists in
Iraq and fighting Islamic militants in Africa.

President Francois Hollande said it was a terrorist act “of
exceptional barbarism,” adding that other attacks have been thwarted in
France in recent weeks. Fears have been running high in France and
elsewhere in Europe that jihadis returning from conflicts in Syria and
Iraq will stage attacks at home.

In a somber address to the nation Wednesday night, Hollande pledged
to hunt down the killers, and pleaded with his compatriots to come
together in a time of insecurity and suspicion.

“Let us unite, and we will win,” he said. “Vive la France!”

France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced
protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and
transportation. Schools closed across Paris, although thousands of
people jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor
the victims, waving pens and papers reading “Je suis Charlie” — “I am
Charlie.” Similar rallies were held in London’s Trafalgar Square as well
as Madrid, Berlin and Brussels.

There were no immediate arrests and no immediate claim of
responsibility for the shootings. The Paris prosecutor said the attack
also wounded 11 people — four of them seriously — and was condemned by
world leaders as an attack on freedom of expression. Supporters of the
militant Islamic State group praised it.

Clad all in black with hoods and carrying assault rifles, the
attackers forced one of the cartoonists arriving at the office building
with her young daughter to open the door with a security code.

The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight
for the paper’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier — widely known by his pen
name Charb — killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe
Crepin, a police union spokesman.

Minutes later, two men strolled out to a black car waiting below,
calmly firing on a police officer, with one gunman shooting him in the
head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who
watched in fear from his home across the street.

The witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he was
afraid for his safety, said the attackers were so methodical that he
first mistook them for France’s elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they
fired on the officer.

“They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot.
While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the
other one delivered the final coup de grace,” he said. “They ran back
to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually.”

The witness added: “I think they were extremely well-trained, and
they knew exactly down to the centimeter and even to the second what
they had to do.”

Eight journalists, a guest and two police officers were killed, said
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, giving a partial breakdown of the 12
dead. Among those killed were Bernard Maris, an economist who was a
contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio,
and cartoonists Georges Wolinski and Berbard Verlhac, better known as
Tignous.

Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who said she was forced to let the gunmen
in, said the men spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al-Qaida.
In an interview with the newspaper l’Humanite, she said the entire
shooting lasted perhaps five minutes, and she hid under a desk.

The video showed the killers moving deliberately and calmly, with one
even bending over to toss a fallen shoe back into the small black car
before it sped off. The car was later found abandoned in northern Paris,
the prosecutor said, and they hijacked a Renault Clio.

Witness Cedric Le Bechec, 33, described seeing the carjacking on his
Facebook page. He said he saw “two big black guys get out of a
bullet-ridden car with a rocket launcher in hand, eject an old guy from
his car and calmly say hi to the public, saying ‘you can tell the media
that it’s al-Qaida in Yemen.’”

A tweeter from al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian
Peninsula, who communicated Wednesday with The Associated Press, said
the group is not claiming responsibility, but said it might have
inspired the attack. In 2013, al-Qaida magazine Inspire specifically
threatened Charb and included an article titled “France the Imbecile
Invader.”

Two police officials named the three suspects as Frenchmen Said
Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, who are brothers and in their early 30s, as
well as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn’t immediately
clear. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they
weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive and ongoing
investigation.

Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping
funnel fighters to Iraq’s insurgency, and sentenced to 18 months in
prison. During his 2008 trial, he told the court he was motivated by his
outrage at television images of torture of Iraqi inmates at the U.S.
prison at Abu Ghraib.

Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of
the Prophet Muhammad and other sketches. Just minutes before the attack,
Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of the Islamic State’s
leader giving New Year’s wishes.

Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after an issue featured a
caricature of the prophet on its cover. Nearly a year later, the
publication again published Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations
from the Muslim world because Islam prohibits the publication of
drawings of the prophet.

Another cartoon, released in this week’s issue and entitled “Still No
Attacks in France,” had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying “Just
wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s
wishes.” Charb was the artist.

“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

President Barack Obama offered U.S. help in pursuing the gunmen,
saying they had attacked freedom of expression and “America’s oldest
ally.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stood
united with France.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack as a “cynical crime,” and pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism.

“I think all of Europe is crying today,” Italian Premier Matteo Renzi
said. “All the free world is crying. All men and women who believe in
freedom and reason are crying.”

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel, “The
Satanic Verses,” drew a death edict from Iran’s religious authorities,
said all must stand with Charlie Hebdo “to defend the art of satire,
which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny,
dishonesty and stupidity.”

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques,
condemned the “hateful act,” and urged Muslims and Christians “to
intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a
united front against extremism.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation based in Jiddah, Saudi
Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, added its
condemnation.

On social media, supporters of militant Islamic groups praised the move.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was trending as people expressed support
for the weekly and for journalistic freedom. The weekly’s website
collapsed earlier Wednesday but was later restored.

 | Inquirer News

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