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Friday, January 9, 2015

Paris attack suspects holed up in French town


French town of Dammartin-en-Goele near Paris in lockdown as police operation under way to detain two suspects.

Officers said the operation began after witnesses sighted the two men said to be responsible for the attack [AFP]

A massive police operation is under way northeast of Paris, as the search for two suspects behind the killing of 12 people at a French magazine earlier in the week intensified, local media and the interior ministry have said.

Two of the alleged attackers - brothers identified as 32-year-old Said Kouachi and 34-year-old Cherif Kouachi - have been cornered by police inside a printing house with a hostage in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.

French security forces poured into the small industrial town near Charles de Gaulle international airport after the suspects hijacked a car early on Friday in a nearby town.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that an operation was under way to "neutralise" the suspects as the massive manhunt appeared to be reaching a dramatic climax with helicopters buzzing overhead.

The ministry has said that there have been no deaths or injuries in the ongoing operation. One hostage has been taken.

The AP news agency reported that the two brothers told police that they "want to die as martyrs," quoting a local politician.

Meanwhile, fresh shooting broke out in eastern Paris on Friday, with reports that an armed man had taken several people hostage at a kosher grocery store, the AFP news agency reported. At least one person is believed to be wounded.

French President Francois Hollande held a meeting with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Friday amid the police operations.

Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport closed two runways to arrivals amid the police operation in Dammartin-en-Goele town close to the airport.

But an airport spokesman said the flight diversions are not affecting schedules.

The latest developments come as heavily armed anti-terrorism police swooped on residential areas of the town in an extensive manhunt for two brothers suspected of being behind killing at the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo.

Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from Dammartin-en-Goele, about 30km northeast of Paris, said the entire area was under lockdown amid multiple reports filtering through of the men's whereabouts in the area. It is also undersood that the men may have taken a hostage.

"Police have sealed the area as part of their attempt to isolate and sterilise area. People have been told to stay in their offices and not move around," our correspondent said.

Known to police

President Francois Hollande rushed to an interior ministry meeting to be briefed on the situation as Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that France was at "war" with terrorism, but "not in a war against religion".

"It will without doubt be necessary to take measures" to respond to the terrorist "threat," he said.

Two of the alleged attackers, who are also brothers, have been identified as 32-year-old Said Kouachi and 34-year-old Cherif Kouachi. Police said they are French-born sons of Algerian-born parents.

In a news conference on Thursday, the interior minister said the younger brother was known to French security forces, adding that he had had links to al-Qaeda in 2004 and 2005.

He added that Said Kouachi had been under security survellience.

Police also said that the fatal shooting of a policewoman in Montrouge, south of Paris, on Thursday was linked to Wednesday's shooting at the newspaper's office.

Another city employee was also seriously wounded in that shooting by a man wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying a handgun and automatic rifile.

Suspect jailed before

Earlier, police said that Kouachi was imprisoned for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq to fight for armed groups.

Nine people have been detained in relation to the investigation, Cazeneuve also said.

Four cartoonists working with the publication, including the editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as "Charb", were among the dead. The other cartoonists killed were known as Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski.

Charlie Hebdo's depictions of Islam, including the Prophet Muhammad, had drawn condemnation and threats before. It was firebombed in 2011 - although it also satirised other religions as well as political figures.

Wednesday's attack triggered global outrage and condemnation.

Hollande said it was a "terrorist act of exceptional barbarism", adding that other attacks have been thwarted in France in recent weeks.

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