Brothers ‘located, shots fired’

Written By komlim puldel on Kamis, 08 Januari 2015 | 20.01

Police are hunting three French nationals, including two brothers from the Paris region, after suspected Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at satirical magazine. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

Said and Cherif Kouahci are wanted by French police in connection with the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo offices. Source: Supplied

FRENCH police have mobilised a "huge" number of paramilitary officers to north France, after the two armed brothers who terrorised Paris in yesterday's Charlie Hebdo terror attack were located at a petrol station.

Reports from Europe state the suspects, Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, were holed up in L'Aisne, in north France, where they robbed a petrol station, stealing fuel and food.

The men escaped, and police have reports the gunmen are on their way back to Paris armed with two grenade launchers.

News Corp's Charles Miranda, in Paris, reports tensions are high in the city.

"Shots were fired as they made their getaway and a witness reported the men being armed with a rocket launcher," he said.

According to AFP, the manager of the petrol station near Villers-Cotteret, in the Picardy region of northern France, east of Paris, "recognised the two men suspected of having participated in the attack against Charlie Hebdo".

Sky News reports shots were fired at the petrol station. They are armed and have been travelling in a Renault Clio, number plates covered, guns visible, wearing balaclavas.


Suspects Cherif, left, and Said Kouachi in the newspaper attack. Picture: Prefecture de Police de Paris Source: AP

Earlier, it was revealed the men wanted by French police in connection with the deadly terror attack on Charlie Hebdo offices are brothers — one of whom has been convicted on terrorism charges before.

Eighteen-year-old suspect Hamyd Mourad reportedly surrendered to police at 11pm Wednesday evening Paris time. But — according to official sources — police are still hunting for brothers Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, also suspected of carrying out the deadly attack.

It's believed they have been cornered at a property in Reims, northeast of Paris, with one official, who wanted to remain anonymous, saying "there will be a showdown".

The Kouachi brothers are believed to be orphaned children of Algerian immigrants who grew up in Rennes, according to French news outlet Liberation.

The paper described Cherif Kouachi as an "occasional Muslim" who worked briefly as a sports instructor before being radicalised by the US intervention in Iraq and human rights abuses shown at Abu Ghraib prison.

Police surround a property in Reims. Picture: Screengrab. Source: Supplied

Cherif was arrested in 2005 with another French national for planning to fly to Iraq via Syria and sentenced in 2008 to three years in prison, NBC reports. The operation was linked to the 19th Arrondisement Network — named after the Paris district home to many Muslim families — and run by ringleader Farid Benyettou, who was 26 at the time. He was described by AP in 2008 as a "janitor-turned-street preacher" who told others in the neighbourhood that "jihad is justified".

Cherif Kouachi, who was 25 at the time, told AP that he "really believed in the idea" and was motivated by the images of torture shown at Abu Ghraib. Files in the case included documents on how to use Kalashnikovs — the same guns used in the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack that killed 12 people.

A French official also told AP the brothers are linked to a Yemeni terrorist network and they are thought to have returned to France from Syria in the past 12 months. Overnight, a witness quoted the Charlie Hebdo attackers as saying at the time that "you can tell the media that it's al-Qaeda in Yemen".

Mr Mourad's nationality and connection with the brothers is unclear. It's thought that he recently graduated high school at Charleville-Mezieres, outside the city of Reims.

French forensic experts examine evidence outside the Paris offices where the deadly attack occurred. Picture: AP Photo/Francois Mori. Source: AP

A witness described the gunmen as acting so calmly he thought they had professional training. Amateur video shows them shooting an officer at close range. Picture: AP. Source: AP

Australian terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton of Monash University believes it's almost certain the brothers had combat experience and may be linked to the Islamic State.

"This is something that seems to be the work of professionals," Professor Barton told AAP.

"There's always been this fear, if you get people who have military training and act like soldiers they'd be so much more effective."

Shortly after the attack, France's elite anti-terrorism group raided the north-eastern city of Reims where they are believed to have cornered the suspects. A member of the unit said either the suspects would be able to escape or "there will be a showdown" with journalists at the scene urged to remain vigilant.

France has also raised its alert system to maximum "Attack Alert" and boosted security with 800 police called in to protect major landmarks, media offices and places of worship.

French soldiers disembark at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris to beef up security in Paris. Picture: Photo/Michel Spingler. Source: AP

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has offered condolences on the attack and likened it to the Sydney siege, saying the "barbaric" event is an assault on the Western way of life.

"There are people who think that free, pluralist, easygoing societies such as ours are some kind of a satanic expression," he said.

"These people, they are in love with death, as was demonstrated by the Martin Place siege in Sydney."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the Paris attack as a "senseless and horrific" act of terrorism. The Department of Foreign Affairs said Australians in Paris should travel as normal but remain vigilant.

People gather in Montpellier to show support for victims. Picture: AFP SYLVAIN THOMAS Source: AFP

The pen has become a symbol of defiance for those holding vigils. Picture: AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER Source: AFP

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