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Charlie Hebdo: Paris massacre Kouachi fugitives go to ground in forest

By Cahal Milmo and John Lichfield

The two brothers believed to be responsible for Wednesday's terror attacks on the streets of Paris sought sanctuary in a vast forest 60 miles from the French capital last night.

At the same time, Parisians again took to the streets to watch the lights go out on the Eiffel Tower in an unprecedented display of outrage and unity.

As the manhunt for the suspected mass killers Cherif and Said Kouachi appeared to have entered its decisive phase, and as the lights went out on Paris's most famous landmark, hundreds of armed police were combing woodland and fields outside a small town to the capital's north-east. Military helicopters circled overhead in an operation to pinpoint the killers who had eluded police for more than a day.

After nearly 24 hours without a confirmed sighting of the brothers following the assault in central Paris which left 12 dead, the biggest counter-terrorism operation in recent French history moved its focus to the 5,000-strong community of Crépy-en-Valois after the brothers broke cover and held up a petrol station on one of the main routes from the capital.

Staff at the Avia service stop in Villers Cotterets in the Aisne region reported seeing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles in the back of the Kouachis' stolen grey Renault Clio as they were forced to fill its tank at gunpoint at about 10.30am local time.

Following the discovery of the abandoned car just after the service station hold-up, dozens of police special forces flooded into normally quiet villages. One resident said it appeared police believed the men may have fled into the nearby Foret de Retz - a vast woodland measuring 13,000 hectares.

One homeowner said: "The police arrived at 5pm and ordered us to stay indoors, lock up and close the shutters. I'm a bundle of nerves."

France suffered a second day of terrorist bloodshed yesterday as a policewoman suffered fatal injuries when a gunman, armed with a pistol and an automatic weapon, opened fire on her and a colleague in Montrouge, a southern suburb of Paris, shortly before 9am. He then fled on foot.

The French authorities said the shooting was being treated as a "terrorist act" but no formal link had been identified with the Charlie Hebdo killings. The second officer was seriously injured. Two people were being held last night. The suspected copycat attack occurred as France came to a standstill to observe a minute's silence at midday and the bells of Notre Dame in Paris tolled in memory of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

There were also the first signs of a backlash against France's Muslim population, the largest in Europe, after at least five attacks aimed at mosques and businesses.

Dummy grenades were thrown at a mosque overnight in Le Mans, in the west, and a Muslim family's car was shot in the Vaucluse region, in the south.

After a night in which the trail of the Kouachi brothers appeared to have gone cold despite a number of raids in the eastern city of Reims where one of the brothers lived, the manhunt recommenced after the suspects pulled off a road from Paris to Soissons to rob the filling station of food and petrol.

The manager reported seeing a formidable arsenal in the rear of the Clio, which was hijacked after the men abandoned their initial getaway vehicle.

Police sources revealed the attackers had left 10 petrol bombs in the black C3 along with a black jihadist flag and headscarf, a magnetic rooftop emergency services light and an identity card.

The 18-year-old brother-in-law of Cherif Kouachi surrendered himself to police, claiming he had been in school, 180 miles away from Paris at the time of the attack.

Belfast Telegraph


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