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Special Forces were moving in Thursday on a rural area northeast of Paris where alleged Charlie Hebdo suspects were potentially spotted. Two individuals matching descriptions of the brothers who were wanted in connection with the shooting were seen robbing a gas station armed with machine guns, touching off the massive response and corresponding search. Helicopters and armored vehicles assisted law enforcement and Special Forces in hunting down the suspects.
The gas station that was targeted is located 50 miles northeast of Paris and 40 miles to the west of Reims, near Villers-Cotteret. The manhunt included searching homes, villages and towns, and regular farmhouses for anyone appearing to be hiding. The robbery was considered as the last reported sighting of the brothers suspected in the massacre at the satirical magazine’s office. Crepy-en-Valois, Longpont, and Corcy and other neighboring towns were subject to searches by police.
NBC reported that several individuals linked to the pair have been detained by authorities. A raid conducted by Special Forces on an apartment in Reims turned up several individuals linked to the brother but no further elaboration was provided by UNSA police union representative, Christophe Crepin. Manuel Valls, current prime minister, assured citizens that the culprits would be brought to justice stating that thousands of various law enforcement entities had been mobilized.
France’s special forces unit, GIGN, was conducting searches in the area armed with camouflaged rifles and dressed with a ski mask and military fatigues. SWAT team units with helmets strapped went door-to-door in Corcy searching homes with rifles at the ready. An elderly resident told NBC that soldiers knocked on the door, searched the home, and ordered them to evacuate.
-year-old Lassad Toumi arrived home from feeding his horses when he was approached by SWAT team members. In his recount to NBC, he said that they asked to search his home for his safety. He obliged and the Special Forces moved in, going room to room searching for sign of the spotted Charlie Hebdo suspects. After the search came up empty, the four officers advised Toumi not to leave the house and if he saw anything remotely suspicious to call the authorities.
An estimated 70 law enforcement officers armed with automatic weapons arrived in Crepy-en-Valois in a dozen vehicles. Witnesses reported to NBC that helicopters flew overheard with gunners aiming out the chopper doors. According to Le Point, the gas station thieves pilfered gas and food before taking off. The men wore balaclavas and wielded automatic weapons according to the AFP.
Brothers Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, are accused of targeting the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Cherif was sentenced back in 2008 to 18 months in prison for terrorism charges. Cherif has been vocal about his disgust to the torture suffered by inmates at the U.S. prison located in Abu Ghraib.
In other parts of France, reports of grenade and gun attacks poured in outside mosques. In Le Mans and in Villefranche-s ur-Saone, mosques were attacked but no injuries were reported according to police. Concerns of an anti-Muslim backlash gripped the biggest Islamic community in Europe.
France marked Thursday a day of mourning in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The nation observed a minute of silence at midday local time and President Hollande appeared at the ceremony held in the honor of the fallen. Flags around the country were at half-staff in memory of the slain journalists and officers. While Special Forces moved in on the Charlie Hebdo suspects that were spotted, the country halted and Paris stilled as citizens gathered under dreary skies matching the emotions of the nation.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler – Flickr License