Charlie Hebdo attack: Suspected extremist gunmen surrounded?

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DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France (CNN) — [Breaking news update, posted at 6:08 a.m. ET]

— The two suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack spoke to officers by phone and said they wanted to die as martyrs, according to a French member of parliament for the district where a police operation is taking place.

— Yves Albarello, who is in the Dammartin-en-Goele area where officers are hunting for the suspects, was speaking on French channel iTele.

[Previous story, posted at 5:13 a.m. ET]

(CNN) — The suspected gunmen may be cornered.

French search teams have surrounded a section of the town Dammartin-en-Goele northeast of Paris on Friday. There are media reports of a hostage taking in the same town, which is a few miles from Charles de Gaulle airport.

The Kouachi brothers, the suspects in Wednesday’s killing of 12 people, are “almost certainly” the hostage takers, French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henri Brandet said.

Convoys of police vans with blue lights flashing filled residential streets, and a nearby hospital sent a medical team to the town. An ambulance could be seen on the scene. Police armed with assault rifles held watch.

A local resident told CNN that the Dammartin-en-Goele was on lockdown, and that people have been told to shelter in place.

In Paris, President Francois Hollande called for national unity and said police officers killed by the gunmen Wednesday died because they were representing the nation.

“France is living through a trial, when we see the worst massacre of this kind in the last 50 years,” Hollande said. “It shows when a newspaper is attacked that it’s because it’s the expression of liberty itself.”

Previous sightings?

The two suspects in the killing of 12 at the offices of satire cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo may have been spotted not far from Dammartin-en-Goele twice before.

On Thursday, they followed a lead from a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets, whom Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, reportedly threatened, as they stole gas and food and then drove off.

Police believe the brothers may have later fled on foot into nearby woodlands.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls put that northernmost region of France, Picardy, on the same highest terror alert that Paris has been on since the attack.

And police spying down with night vision optics from helicopters believe they caught a glimpse of them Thursday near Crepy-en-Valois, France — not far from the reported robbery.

That town and the gas station border on a patch of woods, and on another side of the forest, 30 to 40 police vehicles swarmed out from the town of Longpont.

Squads of officers armed with rifles — some in helmets and with shields — canvassed field and forest.

Latest updates at 5:20 a.m. ET

— Dammartin-en-Goele residents have been told to stay inside and the schools are on lockdown, the mayor’s press office told CNN on Friday.

— The principal of a local primary school told CNN that police operations in the town began just before 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET). Parents who came to get their children have been told to stay inside. Shops in the town have been told to close, she said.

— At least two Air France flights aborted planned landings Friday morning at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, according to a tweet from FlightRadar24. Flights into the airport are being “regulated due to security issues in the vicinity,” leading to “high delays,” European Air Traffic Control said on its website. There is an ongoing police operation in Dammartin-en-Goele, near the airport. But delays are minor, the airport said.

— Meaux hospital has sent a medical team to the reported hostage scene northeast of Paris, the hospital spokesman told CNN on Friday. He said there were no wounded at the hospital yet, but that might change.

— One or more hostages are being held at a business near Charles de Gaulle airport, French media reported Friday.

— French police have surrounded an area where they believe the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack are located, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told CNN affiliate BFM-TV.

Other places, other troubles

Picardy was not alone. More than 80,000 officers deployed across France to try to intercept the two brothers.

And they may be searching for a third suspect in a separate shooting in a southern suburb of Paris on Thursday, which authorities called a terror attack. They have not connected it to Wednesday’s slaying at Charlie Hebdo.

A gunman dressed in black and wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest — just like those who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices — shot and killed a female police officer in Montrouge.

Al Qaeda, Yemen, gasoline

In the meantime, investigators studying physical and digital evidence shared more details.

In the car driven in the attack, police found a container with gasoline and items they say could have been used to make rudimentary explosives like Molotov cocktails. They also found Said Kouachi’s identification card.

Police have also searched residences in a few towns and detained nine people in connection with the investigation.

Hamyd Mourad, 18, who had been named as a suspect, turned himself in after seeing his name on social media, a source told AFP, but classmates have said he was in school when the attacks occurred.

Said, the elder of the Kouachi brothers, had been to Yemen, a French official said. He trained there on weapons with al Qaeda, a U.S. official with access to French intelligence said.

His younger brother, Cherif, was sentenced to three years in prison for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to join the conflict in Iraq.

An ISIS radio broadcast Thursday praised the attackers, calling them “brave jihadists.” But they did not say whether the two had any connection to the militant group.

Bloodshed, satire, values

Charlie Hebdo’s staff is as defiant as it was after its former offices were fire-bombed in 2011, the day it was to publish an issue poking fun at Islamic law.

Back then, editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, “Charb” for short, said it would not slow them down one bit. The magazine continued lampooning world religions, politics and society in its hallmark profane — at times vulgar — style.

Some have found their drawings offensive, but they are not uncommon for European comic satire aimed at an adult audience.

Since the attack, Charb was guarded day and night, a journalist who knew him told CNN. Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula placed him on a list of assassination targets.

On Wednesday, two masked gunmen dressed in black forced their way into his offices in the trendy 11th district, and, according to accounts, separated men from women and called out the names of cartoonists they intended to kill.

They shot dead Charbonnier and four other well-known cartoonists known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski, Honore and Tignous. They also killed three more journalists, the magazine’s co-owner, a maintenance man and two police officers.

Patrick Pelloux, a columnist for the magazine and also a trained paramedic, rushed to the office when he heard about the shooting.

“I don’t know if I’m afraid anymore, because I’ve seen fear. I was scared for my friends, and they are dead,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I know that they didn’t want us to be quiet. They wanted us to continue to fight for these values, cultural pluralism, democracy and secularism, the respect of others. They would be assassinated twice, if we remained silent.”

Candles, notes, pens aloft

In Mexico City late Thursday, a crowd gathered holding up signs reading “Yo soy Charlie,” a Spanish translation of the protest sign “Je suis Charlie” — I am Charlie. The show of solidarity that has circled the globe in a domino effect from Berlin to Tokyo to New York to Bogota, along with bitter condemnation by leaders of Muslim communities.

The night of Wednesday’s slaying, multitudes filled sprawling squares, holding signs and candles, and raising pens into the air.

Late Thursday, the Eiffel Tower cut its lights, blackening against the night sky in Charlie Hebdo’s honor.

By early Friday, candles, French flags, notes and pens accumulated as mementos in public places.

And they piled up at near the entrance to the cartoon magazine’s offices.

CNN’s Atika Shubert reported from France, CNN’s Ben Brumfield wrote from Atlanta; Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Richard Greene, Fred Pleitgen, Christiane Amanpour, Jim Bittermann and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.

By Ben Brumfield, Laura Smith-Spark and Atika Shubert


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