French anti-terror forces are raiding a site in the northeastern city of Reims as part of their hunt for the suspects in the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Agence-France Presse said, citing the police.
AFP didn’t give details on the operation in Reims, which is about 90 miles away from Paris.
At least 12 people were killed at the weekly Charlie Hebdo in eastern Paris, prompting France to deploy thousands of police to protect train stations, airports, schools and cultural sites. Le Point magazine identified the assailants as brothers Said and Cherif Kaouchi, aged 32 and 34 respectively, and Hamyd Mourad, 18.
“All the elements of this investigation would be made public as soon we have precise and final elements,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said earlier in the day.
The country was put on the highest terrorist alert after one of its deadliest attacks since World War II, with protection extended to places of worship and media outlets. The assault was carried out by two masked men brandishing AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, with at least one shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic. It left 11 people injured, with four of them in critical condition.
‘State of shock’
“France is in a state of shock after this terrorist attack,” said French President Francois Hollande. “An act of exceptional barbarity has been perpetrated against a newspaper, against liberty of expression, against journalists.”
The attacks threaten to stoke Islamophobia in a country that has the biggest proportion of Muslims in Europe and may bolster support for the anti-immigration National Front party. Thousands of people descended into town squares across France tonight to defend what they said were values dear to them.
“I came here to show we don’t cede to terror,” said Elie Benchimol, 23, an economics student who was at the Place de la Republique in Paris. “France must continue to define itself as a country of freedom of expression and rule of law.”
The dead included eight journalists, a guest at the weekly, a maintenance man and two policemen. The magazine’s most renowned cartoonists -- Cabu, Charb, Tignous and Wolinski -- were among those killed.
The journalists had gathered on the second floor of the magazine’s offices in the 11th arrondissement of Paris for their weekly editorial meeting.
The three assailants, including a driver, arrived at Charlie Hebdo in a Citroen C3 at 11:30 a.m. After the shootings that lasted about five minutes, they got back into their car -- filmed by some journalists from the roof of the building -- headed toward Porte de Pantin on the northern edge of Paris, where police lost track of them, according to Emmanuel Quemener from the police union Alliance.
“It was well-armed commandos,” he said. “They had weapons of war, including Kalashnikovs. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
Hollande said all potential terrorist targets across France have been put under the highest protection, adding that several possible incidents had been foiled in recent weeks.
France’s last major terrorist violence came in 1995, when bombings struck public places between July and October, including the Saint Michel metro station in the heart of Paris. Bombs also exploded in the Place de l’Etoile.
In all, eight were killed and about 200 were injured. The bombings were blamed on an Algerian rebel group.
In 2012, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, murdered seven people, including three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
“We can’t accept this madness,” Dalil Boubakeur, the Paris Mosque’s rector, said today. “We want to live in peace.”
In an address to the nation, Hollande called for calm.
“Our best weapon is unity,” he said. “Very talented cartoonists and journalists have died. They were part of the lives of generations of French people. Their message of freedom will continue to be defended in their names.”
The attacks drew condemnation from across the world. U.S. President Barack Obama offered French authorities assistance to investigate the shooting. Prime Minister David Cameron called the attacks “barbaric,” saying the U.K. stands united with the French people in its opposition to all forms of terrorism.’’
Charlie Hebdo’s cover this week is on “Submission,” a book by Michel Houellebecq released today, which is sparking controversy with its depiction of a fictional France of the future led by an Islamic party and a Muslim president who bans women from the workplace. Submission is the English translation of the word Islam.
Famous for its biting commentary, irreverent, often offensive cartoons, the magazine had earlier in the day tweeted a cartoon of an Islamic State emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed in November 2011 after it published a special edition featuring the Prophet Muhammad as a “guest editor.” The fire caused no injuries.
In his sixth novel, Houellebecq plays on fears that western societies are being inundated by the influence of Islam, a worry that this month drew thousands in anti-Islamist protests in Germany. In the novel, Houellebecq has the imaginary “Muslim Fraternity” party winning a presidential election in France against the nationalist, anti-immigration National Front.
Houellebecq’s book is set in France in 2022. It has the fictional Muslim Fraternity’s chief, Mohammed Ben Abbes, beating National Front Leader Marine Le Pen, with Socialists, centrists, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party rallying behind him to block the National Front.
Ben Abbes goes on to ban women in the workplace, advocates polygamy, pushes Islamic schools on the masses and imposes a conservative and religious vision of society. The French widely accept the new environment, hence the book’s title.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, with more than 5 million people of the faith out of a population of about 65 million, a number that’s been growing with children and grandchildren of 20th-century immigrants. Very few Muslims have reached top-level jobs in France, and second-and- third-generation French people of Arab descent say they often face discrimination.
The fear of Islamization has traction in France with opinion polls showing the anti-immigration Le Pen would lead in the first round of the 2017 presidential race. The party topped the Socialist party and UMP in last year’s European elections. It may score well again in this year’s local ballots.
The attack comes against the backdrop of French military actions in Africa and the Middle East to combat Islamic groups.
The French army currently has two overseas operations, with about 3,800 troops. Its forces began fighting in the Sahel region of Africa -- spanning Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Fasso and Niger -- in 2013. France also joined the U.S. in fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
About 800 soldiers are stationed in the Middle East for the operation and France is bombing the group in Iraq.