Friday, January 9

Paris attack suspects holed up in French town

A massive police operation is under way in 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 confirmed.

Local media said witnesses reported on Friday a high-speed car chase and gunshots as police chased the suspects on a French highway outside Paris.

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.Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport has 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 northeast of Paris in a 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, around 30km north-east 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 sterilize area. People have been told to stay in their offices and not move around," our correspondent said.

Officers said the operation began after witnesses sighted the two men said to be responsible for the attack on Charlie Hebdo in a town in the Picardy region, adding that their hijacked getaway car was found in the same area.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said the manhunt was approaching its final moments.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that France is at "war" with terrorism, but not religion, as police cornered two suspects.

"We are in a war against terrorism. We are not in a war against religion, against a civilisation," Valls 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.

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.

French President Francois 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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