France from media massacre to manhunt

8th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

A snapshot of developments since Wednesday's attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 died and 11 were injured, in what was the worst attack in France for half a century.

- The attack -

At around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) on Wednesday, two masked Kalashnikov-wielding men dressed in black commando-style gear storm the central Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo.

They kill a receptionist before going to the second floor where they pick off eight journalists, a police officer protecting cartoonist Charb, and a visitor to the building as they held an editorial meeting.

Only one person in the meeting survives, by hiding under the table. The witness hears the pair cry "we have avenged the prophet" and "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest). Police receive reports of gunshots at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters and immediately dispatch officers.

The attackers climb into a black Citroen C3 car and exchange fire with police vehicles, without injuring the officers inside.

They then unflinchingly execute an injured police officer sprawled on the pavement as he holds his hand aloft in an apparent attempt to shield himself.

As they make their way north, the gunmen's crash crashes into a Volkswagen, injuring its driver.

They try to continue but are forced to abandon their damaged vehicle at Paris' Porte de Pantin before hijacking another car and fleeing towards the north of the capital, throwing off the police.

- The manhunt -

On Wednesday, France raises its alert status for Paris to the highest level of "attack alert".

Police carry out raids in several locations, with France's elite anti-terrorist unit raiding sites in the northeastern towns of Reims and Charleville-Mezieres.

Citing forensic evidence and the identity card left by one of the suspects in the abandoned car, police say they are hunting three men, including two brothers: Cherif and Said Kouachi, 34 and 32 respectively, who are known to intelligence services.

They are also looking for Mourad Hamyd, 18, suspected of helping the two brothers in the attack.

Towards 11:00 pm Hamyd hands himself into police in Charleville-Mezieres in northern France. Several of his school friends take to Twitter saying he had been in class with them at the time of the attack, using the hashtag #MouradHamydInnocent.

On Thursday morning tensions rise again when a policewoman who was shot by a gunman wearing a bulletproof vest just outside Paris dies, with a second victim left in a serious condition.

The perpetrator escapes. No link has been established with the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Prosecutors say Muslim places of worship in two French towns were fired upon overnight, leaving no casualties.

In mid-morning the two brothers are spotted in the northern Aisne region by the owner of a filling station, whom they threatened.

French investigators find a dozen Molotov cocktails and two jihadist flags in the getaway car used in the massacre.

As night falls the two brothers were still on the run.

- Reactions

President Francois Hollande, who rused to the scene Wednesday, says Thursday is to be day of mourning.

Reactions pour in from around the world, including the UN Security Council, US President Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the people of France in televised remarks in French, saying: "All Americans stand by your side."

On social media, people across the world show their solidarity with the publication by posting the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie -- "I am Charlie".

More than 100,000 people gather in cities around France as night falls to pay tribute to those gunned down, with 35,000 gathering at Paris' Republique square, not far from where the attack took place.

Gatherings also take place in a number of European capitalsas well as New York, Washington DC and Canada, and flags fly at half mast.

On Thursday people lay flowers, pencils, candles, drawings and messages near to the mazagine's offices.

At midday France observed a minute's silence, after which the bells of Paris's Notre Dame cathedral sound out across the capital.

The government calls for another round of even bigger demonstrations of nationwide solidarity on Sunday.

Islamic organisations from across France call on Muslims to join the moment of silence and for imams to condemn terrorism at Friday prayers.

Cartoonists around the world put pencil to paper in solidarity with the artists.

Meanwhile, the radio station of the jihadist Islamic State group describes the perpetrators of the attack as "heroes".

© 2015 AFP

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