Charlie Hebdo attack: 2 intense standoffs in France

Posted at 7:03 AM, Jan 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-09 09:32:09-05

PARIS — Two intense standoffs with gunmen were underway in and around Paris early Friday afternoon — one involving the two brothers wanted in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the other a hostage situation at a kosher grocery store.

It was not immediately known if or how the two situations were related, but both underscored France’s days-long nightmare and anti-terrorism fight.

The latest unfolded near Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris, where the city prosecutor’s office reported a shooting and hostage situation early Friday afternoon. Police anti-terror units raced to the scene, while ambulances blared as they moved away from it.

At least one man — suspected to be Amedy Coulibaly, 32, one of two people wanted in Thursday’s deadly shooting of a policewoman south of Paris — is thought to be holding six people in the kosher store, police union spokesman Romain Fabiano told CNN affiliate BFMTV. Authorities haven’t said how many are being held, or if anyone has been killed.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers hours earlier surrounded a building about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast in the town Dammartin-en-Goele.

Authorities have expressed a high degree of certainty that the Kouachi brothers — the suspects in Wednesday’s killing of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — are inside. There have been media reports of hostages with them, though Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henri Brandet tweeted that this is not confirmed.

Latest updates at 9:22 a.m. ET

• Roads were blocked off near the hostage situation at the grocery store near Porte de Vincennes, with heavily armed law enforcement seen inside.

• Meanwhile, in Dammartin-en-Goele, Brandet tweeted that negotiating teams have made it their top priority trying to establish a dialogue with the extremists inside the building. Yves Albarello, who is in France’s parliament, said on French channel iTele that the two suspects told police by phone that they wanted to die as martyrs.

• There had been no assault, nor any injuries or deaths, as of 1 p.m. (7 a.m. ET), the Interior Ministry spokesman added.

• A salesman, who identified himself only as Didier, told France Info radio that he shook one of the gunman’s hands as they arrived around 8:30 a.m. Friday at a Dammartin-en-Goele printing business — the same place where the Kouachi brothers are believed to be surrounded. Didier told the public radio station that he first thought the man, who was dressed in black and heavily armed, was a police officer.

As he left, the armed man said, “Go, we don’t kill civilians.” Didier said, “It wasn’t normal. I did not know what was going on.”

• Dammartin-en-Goele residents have been told to stay inside, and schools are on lockdown, the mayor’s media office told CNN on Friday. Shops in the town have been told to close.

• These aren’t the only incidents occupying French authorities. So, too, is the fatal shooting of a policewoman Thursday in Montrouge, a southern suburb of Paris. French police released photos Friday of a man and a woman — Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene, 26 — who they believe carried out this attack and are believed to be armed and dangerous.

Previous sightings?

Two days ago, it was all about Charlie Hebdo, the provocative satirical magazine whose offices came under ruthless attack, with staff members called out and summarily executed.

Now, it’s about Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, the brothers allegedly behind that horrific violence, who set off a massive manhunt after they got away.

Authorities followed a lead Thursday morning from a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Dammartin-en-Goele, whom the Kouachis reportedly threatened as they stole food and gas. Police think the brothers may have later fled on foot into nearby woodlands.

Northern France’s Picardy region is the focal point of the manhunt, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls putting it on the same, highest-possible alert level as has been in place since Wednesday in and around Paris.

And police spying down with night vision optics from helicopters say they think they caught a glimpse of them Thursday near Crepy-en-Valois, France — not far from the reported robbery.

That town and the gas station border on a patch of woods, and on another side of the forest, 30 to 40 police vehicles swarmed out from the town of Longpont.

Squads of officers armed with rifles — some in helmets and with shields — canvassed fields and forest.

They didn’t find the Kouachi brothers there. Instead, somehow, they’re believed to have moved to Dammartin-en-Goele.

Other places, other troubles

More than 80,000 officers deployed across France to try to intercept the two brothers.

“France is living through a trial, when we see the worst massacre of this kind in the last 50 years,” President Francois Hollande said Friday. “It shows when a newspaper is attacked that it’s because it’s the expression of liberty itself.”

In the meantime, investigators studying physical and digital evidence shared more details.

In the car driven in the attack, police found a container with gasoline and items they say could have been used to make rudimentary explosives like Molotov cocktails. They also found Said Kouachi’s identification card.

Police have also searched residences in a few towns and detained nine people in connection with the investigation.

Said, the elder of the Kouachi brothers, has been to Yemen, a French official said. There, he had weapons training with al Qaeda, a U.S. official with access to French intelligence said.

His younger brother, Cherif, was sentenced to three years in prison for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to join the conflict in Iraq.

An ISIS radio broadcast Thursday praised the attackers, calling them “brave jihadists.” But the broadcast did not say whether the two had any connection to the militant group.

Bloodshed, satire, values

Charlie Hebdo’s staff is as defiant as it was after its former offices were fire-bombed in 2011, the day it was to publish an issue poking fun at Islamic law.

Back then, editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, “Charb” for short, said it would not slow them down one bit. The magazine continued lampooning world religions, politics and society in its hallmark profane — at times vulgar — style.

Some have found their drawings offensive, but they are not uncommon for European comic satire aimed at an adult audience.

Since the attack, Charb was guarded day and night, a journalist who knew him told CNN. Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula placed him on a list of assassination targets.

He was among those killed Wednesday, along with four other well-known cartoonists known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski, Honore and Tignous.

Patrick Pelloux, a columnist for the magazine and also a trained paramedic, rushed to the offices when he heard about the shooting.

“I don’t know if I’m afraid anymore, because I’ve seen fear. I was scared for my friends, and they are dead,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I know that they didn’t want us to be quiet. They wanted us to continue to fight for these values, cultural pluralism, democracy and secularism, the respect of others. They would be assassinated twice, if we remained silent.”

CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported from France, Ben Brumfield and Greg Botelho wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Atika Shubert, Laura Smith-Spark, Richard Greene, Fred Pleitgen, Christiane Amanpour, Jim Bittermann and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.

CNN’s Atika Shubert reported from France, Ben Brumfield wrote from Atlanta and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Richard Greene, Fred Pleitgen, Christiane Amanpour, Jim Bittermann and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.