Manhunt in France

Thomas Venema Manhunt
French troops patrol the area north of Paris in hopes of catching the suspects.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of soldiers and police mobilised across France amid a manhut for the two brothers allegedly responsible for the savage Charlie Hebdo attacks two days ago.  The search has been concentrated in the area north of Paris, after two men who matched a description of the brothers were spotted at a gas station.  As the day wore on, however, they remain at large.  Amid concerns about the high level of sophistication and training that yesterday’s attacks revealed, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve invited top US and European law enforcement and counterterrorism to Paris to discuss potential terror threats.  9 people have been detained for questioning by the police, including relatives of the suspects.

According to Cazeneuve, the two brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, were both known to French security and had been under surveillance, although no “incriminating evidence” had been discovered about them.  Cazeneuve said that that Said had been formally identified from a photograph as one of the attackers.  Although he had no police record, Chérif had previously been sentenced to 18 months in prison for being part of a terror group.  A third suspect identified by police turned himself in late yesterday, although his relationship to the brothers is unclear.  Earlier yesterday, helicopters were buzzing around the area north of Paris after the two men were spotted near the town of Villers-Cotterez.

According to police officials, the suspects acted with both astounding clumsiness and military-like professionalism.  When arriving in the street of the Charlie Hebdo offices, the gunmen first stepped into the wrong building, but displayed a high level of training when they finally did get into the right building, suggesting that the action had been prepared in advance.  The attack destroyed the Charlie Hebdo newsroom.  After the attack, the suspects evaded the police and were able to make their way out of Paris.  A satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo was no stranger to controversy, with their cartoons lampooning Islam (among other things) have attracted both outrage and death threats.  One of the Hebdo columnists vowed that they would continue to publish, displaying the defiant “Je Suis Charlie”.  At noon yesterday, there was a moment of silence in honor of the men killed.

Cazeneuve claims that some 88,000 army troops and police officers have been deployed in the search, as well as 10,000 in Paris alone.  Many officials are expecting the hunt to take at least several days.  As of yet, it’s unclear as to whether or not the gunmen acted alone or were part of a broader organization, although it seems that they were motivated by Islamic extremism.

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