France Mobilizes 88,000 Police, Soldiers In Manhunt

Jan 8, 2015
Originally published on January 8, 2015 3:29 pm

French police are still searching for the gunmen who killed 12 people in Wednesday's attack on the Charlie Ebdo publication in Paris. They also investigated what appears to have been a second attack on Thursday, in which two police officers were shot — one fatally.

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The hunt goes on in France for two men, brothers alleged to have killed 12 people yesterday in a shooting rampage at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. According to U.S. officials, French authorities believe that the older brother traveled to Yemen in 2011. The French believe he went there for weapons training with al-Qaida.

Ahead, we'll ask how big a threat France faces from extremists.

First, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley begins our coverage with the latest in the investigation.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The biggest manhunt in French history is underway. Eighty-eight thousand police and soldiers have been mobilized nationally in the hunt for the men alleged to have carried out yesterday's attack on the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The two main suspects were reported to have been seen twice today at a gas station north of Paris driving their stolen gray car with a dented front fender. They stole food and gasoline before fleeing.

Hours later, the brothers were supposedly seen driving in the countryside north of the capital in the Picardy region. Television footage showed French police SWAT teams in black armored vehicles driving through country roads and villages. Jean Charles Brisard is chairman of the Center for Analysis of Terrorism.

JEAN CHARLES BRISARD: The situation is confused. It's confused by many rumors. The fact is that the entire French police and intelligence services are all today dedicated at finding and neutralizing these two individuals.



BEARDSLEY: French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve spoke on television tonight describing what police know about the brothers; 32 and 34-year-old Cherif and Said Kouachi, who were born in Paris and grew up in an orphanage.


CAZENEUVE: (Through interpreter) Cherif Kouachi was involved with a ring of young men in Paris who recruited members to go and fight jihad in Iraq. He's been described by his peers as virulently anti-Semitic.

BEARDSLEY: Cherif Kouachi was arrested for his jihad activities in 2008 and spent 18 months in jail. Dominique Many was Kouachi's lawyer. Speaking on television, Many says back then, Kouachi just seemed like a kid in over his head.

DOMINIQUE MANY: (Through interpreter). He was like a lost child; a docile kid who had been brainwashed by some guru. He seemed more like a victim than a perpetrator. Never would I have imagined seven years later he could've become such a monster.

BEARDSLEY: A French television investigative show featured Kouachi in an episode in 2005 about young French men influenced to go fight jihad. The journalist says Kouachi turned from being a rap fan to a jihadist after meeting an Islamist preacher. In the video Kouachi claims the preacher showed him texts proving it was good to carry out attacks and become a martyr.


BEARDSLEY: As if Wednesday's carnage wasn't enough, they French woke to reports of another shooting today, this time in the south of Paris. A man wearing a bulletproof vest opened fire on police. The shooter escaped. One officer later died. Officials don't think the incident is related to yesterday's violence.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: All day, experts have been debating on television whether the state can track and follow all the possible radicals in the country. Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the question that's on everyone's mind.


FRANCOIS FILLON: (Through interpreter) How can young people who are French, born in a country of human rights, consider their future to be in crime and jihad rather than integration into a democratic society?

BEARDSLEY: To show a united front, President Francois Hollande even invited his nemesis, former President Nicolas Sarkozy to meet with him at the Elysee Palace. Paris is under its highest terror threat level ever. Nearly a thousand gendarmes and soldiers have been brought into the French capital to buttress security. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.