DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France (AP) — Brothers suspected in a newspaper terror attack were cornered with a hostage inside a printing house on Friday, after they hijacked a car and police followed them to a village near Paris’ main airport.
Security forces backed by a convoy of ambulances streamed into the small industrial town of Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, in a massive operation to seize the men suspected of carrying out France’s deadliest terror attack in decades. One of the men had been convicted of terrorism charges in 2008, and a U.S. official said both brothers were on the American no-fly list.
At least three helicopters hovered above the town. Nearby Charles de Gaulle airport closed two runways to arrivals to avoid interfering in the standoff, an airport spokesman said. Schools went into lockdown and the town appealed to residents to stay inside their houses.
The siege unfolded after the suspects hijacked a car in the early morning hours, according to police and security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the operation.
Tens of thousands of French security forces have mobilized to prevent a new terror attack since the Wednesday assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the heart of Paris left 12 people dead, including the chief editor and cartoonist who had been under armed guard with threats against his life after publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. His police bodyguard also died in the attack, which began during an editorial meeting.
Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi were named as the chief suspects after Said’s identity card was left behind in their abandoned getaway car. They were holed up Friday inside CTF Creation Tendance Decouverte, a printing house. Xavier Castaing, the chief Paris police spokesman, and town hall spokeswoman Audrey Taupenas said there appeared to be one hostage inside. The police official, who was on the scene, confirmed a hostage.
Christelle Alleume, who works across the street, said a round of gunfire interrupted her coffee break Friday morning.
“We heard shots and we returned very fast because everyone was afraid,” she told i-Tele. “We had orders to turn off the lights and not approach the windows.”
The police official said security forces were preparing to intervene. The town’s website called on residents to stay home and said children would be kept at school.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said both suspects had been known to intelligence services before the attack.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to join extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there. Witnesses said he claimed allegiance to the group during the attack.
The younger brother, Cherif, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for his links to a network sending jihadis to fight American forces in Iraq.
Both were also on the U.S. no-fly list, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. The American officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.
French President Francois Hollande called for tolerance after the country’s worst terrorist attack in decades.
“France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty — and thus of resistance — breathed freely,” Hollande said.
Nine people, members of the brothers’ entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly assault on the satirical weekly, were questioned for information on the attackers, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement.
A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.
The Kouachi brothers, born in Paris to Algerian parents, were well-known to French counterterrorism authorities. Cherif Kouachi, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq.
Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures. The weekly paper had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and a sketch of Islamic State’s leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Nothing has been tweeted since.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack.
Charlie Hebdo planned a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.
Editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who was among those slain, “symbolized secularism … the combat against fundamentalism,” his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, said on BFM-TV.
“He was ready to die for his ideas,” she said.
Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadis trained in warfare. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria — headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have threatened France, home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.
The French suspect in a deadly 2014 attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium had returned from fighting with extremists in Syria; and the man who rampaged in southern France in 2012, killing three soldiers and four people at a Jewish school, received paramilitary training in Pakistan.
Associated Press writers Lori Hinnant, Sylvie Corbet, Jamey Keaten and Samuel Petrequin in Paris; and Ken Dilanian in Washington contributed to this report.
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