Paris terrorists on the run, French anti-terror forces closing in

by Staff |

(REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)French special intervention police conduct a house-to-house search in Longpont, northeast of Paris, January 8, 2015.

VILLERS-COTTERETS/PARIS — French police and anti-terrorism forces are converging on an area northeast of Paris Thursday where two gunmen who killed 12 in a terrorist attack are suspected of hiding. Authorities are looking for "armed and dangerous" brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, 32 and 34. Security agencies reportedly had both men under watch when the two shot up Charlie Hebdo, a satire newspaper.

The men were spotted in a white Renault Clio at a petrol station on a secondary road in Villers-Cotterets some 70 kilometers from the French capital, police sources told Reuters. They were wearing masks and raincoats; weapons were within sight as well.

Now tactical teams are prepared to search the Foret de Retz, a 51-square-mile forest close to the villages of Longpont. Security checkpoints have been set up within a 12-mile radius of Paris.

Late Wednesday, 18-year old Hamyd Mourad turned himself into police in Charleville-Mézières near the Belgian border as police carried out searches in Paris and the northeastern cities of Reims and Strasbourg. A legal source said he was the brother-in-law of one of the main suspects and French media quoted friends as saying he was in school at the moment of the attack.

The gunmen armed with automatic weapons stormed the newspapers offices Wednesday, killing 12 people—two were policemen. Twenty others were injured in the hail of gunfire, and four or five of the wounded bystanders are still in critical condition.

The brazen attack at the weekly newspaper was videotaped by a nearby journalist on a rooftop, and the assailants were heard shouting "Allahu akbar" ("Allah is great") and "we have avenged the Prophet Mohammed" during and after the shootings. The publication was known for mocking religious leaders and has published numerous cartoons ridiculing Islam's Mohammed.

French President Francois Hollande has stepped up security around Paris, especially the recovering newspaper, which plans to publish another issue next week.

"This is a terrorist operation against an office that has been threatened several times, which is why it was protected," Hollande said., revealing that at least 800 soldiers have been stationed in the city.

Reuters contributed to this report.