Police suspect brothers' hand in Paris shooting

Police suspect brothers' hand in Paris shooting

Day 2: Gunfire, blasts rock France; policewoman killed

Police suspect brothers' hand in Paris shooting

Scattered gunfire and explosions shook France on Thursday as the police launched one of the biggest hunts for the two heavily armed brothers suspected in Wednesday’s killing of 12 people inside the office of a satirical magazine.

Two men resembling the suspects robbed a gas station in northeast France in the morning and the police swarmed the site while helicopters hovered above. Officials later said the newspaper office attackers were not there.

Officials also confirmed two explosions outside mosques early in the day, raising fears that the deadly attack at Charlie Hebdo would ignite a backlash against France’s large and diverse Muslim community.

No one was injured in the attacks, one in Le Mans southwest of Paris and another near Lyon, southeast of the capital.

But France’s top security official abandoned a top-level meeting after just 10 minutes to rush to a shooting on the city’s southern edge that killed a policewoman. The shooter remained at large and it was not immediately clear if her death was linked to Wednesday’s deadly attack.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the two suspects in the magazine office attack were still at large. Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, were known to France’s intelligence services.

Cherif Kouachi was convicted of terrorism in 2008 for being involved in a network sending radical fighters to Iraq.

The two should be considered “armed and dangerous,” the French police said in a bulletin, appealing for witnesses after a fruitless search in the city of Reims, in French Champagne country.

A third suspect, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at an eastern police station after learning his name was being linked to the attacks in the news, said the Paris prosecutor spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre. She did not specify his relationship to the Kouachi brothers.

A French security official said seven people had been arrested overnight. He did not elaborate on their possible links to terror.

President Francois Hollande, joined by residents, tourists and Muslim leaders, mourned those killed in the attack and called for tolerance after the country’s worst terrorist attack in decades.

Declaring Thursday a national day of mourning — only the fifth in the last 50 years - Hollande called the bloodbath “an act of exceptional barbarity” and “undoubtedly a terrorist attack”.

At noon, the Paris metro came to a standstill and the crowd that gathered near Notre Dame cathedral fell silent to honour the victims.

“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.

France’s prime minister said the possibility of a new attack “is our main concern” and announced several overnight arrests.

Tension ran high in Paris, and the police patrolled schools and places of worship. Britain increased its security checks at ports and borders.

The government has raised its terror alert system to the maximum and bolstered security with more than 800 extra soldiers guarding media offices, places of worship, transport and other sensitive areas.