PARIS: Seven people have been detained in the hunt for brothers suspected of gunning down 12 people in an Islamist assault on a satirical weekly, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Thursday.
Also, the 18-year-old implicated alongside two brothers in the bloody attack has surrendered to police, according to a source close to the case.
“Hamyd Mourad handed himself in to police on Wednesday at 11:00 p.m. after seeing his name circulating on social media,” the source told Agence France-Presse. “He has been arrested and taken into custody,” another source confirmed.
The masked, black-clad gunmen burst into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday morning, killing some of France’s most outspoken journalists and two policemen, before jumping into a car and escaping.
They are still on the run, and authorities have warned they are “armed and dangerous.”
“Seven people,” Cazeneuve said on French radio when asked how many people were currently being held and questioned over the attack — the bloodiest in France in half a century.
A judicial source, who refused to be named, added that those who were being questioned are men and women who are close to the suspects, without saying where they had been detained.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, meanwhile, told RTL radio that the two suspects were known to intelligence services and were “no doubt” being followed before Wednesday’s attack.
They have been identified as Cherif Kouachi, 32, a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq, and his 34-year-old brother Said. Both were born in Paris.
The massacre triggered an outpouring of solidarity around the world, with outraged people from Moscow to Washington rallying in their tens of thousands under the banner “I am Charlie,” in support of press freedom and the controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Known to police
Cherif Kouachi along with his older brother Said for the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is a jihadist who has been well-known to anti-terror police for many years.
Cherif, who was born on November 28, 1982 in Paris not far from where the attack took place, had already been jailed in 2008 for his role in sending fighters to Iraq.
Sometimes going by the name Abu Issen, he was part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network” that helped send would-be jihadists to join Al Qaeda in Iraq during the US-led invasion in the mid-2000s.
He was arrested just before he was due to fly to Syria and on to Iraq — and was later sentenced to three years in prison, including an 18-month suspended sentence.
Two years later, his name was cited in a police report related to the attempted prison escape of Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, a former member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that carried out a spate of bombings and a plane hijacking in France in the 1990s.
Belkacem was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 for a bombing at the Musee D’Orsay rail station in Paris in October 1995 that left 30 injured.
Cherif Kouachi was also suspected of being close to another key French jihadist, Djamel Beghal, who spent 10 years in prison for planning attacks.
They were suspected of participating in militant training programs together, although charges in this case were dropped against Kouachi.
The United Nations Security Council led global condemnation of the “terrorist” shooting at French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
”The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed,” it said.
United States President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II offered their condolences, while Pope Francis said there could be no justification for “the horrible attack that plunged the city of Paris into mourning”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the shooting was a “brazen assault on free expression in the heart of Europe”, while Reporters Without Borders called it a “black day.”