PARIS — Two of the Islamic gunmen that carried out a strategic massacre at the office of a French satirical newspaper that known for publishing cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Mohammad and other Islamic figures are still on the loose, and a third has turned himself into police.
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, 32 and 34 respectively, and Hamyd Mourad, 18, have been identified as the suspects in the attack that took twelve lives in Paris on Wednesday. At least one of the men, Cherif Kouachi, has been known to have ties to terrorist groups. He was convicted in 2008 for seeking to enlist youth to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight U.S. forces, and was sentenced to three years in prison, with all but 18 months suspended.
As of Thursday, the Kouachi brothers were suspected in taking part in a robbery at a gas station north of Paris. Officials fear that the men, who they have warned are “armed and dangerous,” could strike again. Acquaintances of the Kouachi brothers have been detained for questioning.
According to reports, Mourad, the youngest of the three assailants, turned himself into the Charleville-Mezieres police station in the Champagne region late Wednesday.
As previously reported, Wednesday’s attack occurred at approximately 12 noon local time at Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical publication with offices in Paris. In 2011, the newspaper was firebombed after publishing a caricature of Mohammad as its cover piece, and the following year, after Charlie Hebdo published additional cartoons mocking Mohammad, the government closed its embassies and schools in over 20 countries out of fear of retribution.
This week’s issue featured an Islamic caricature entitled “Still No Attacks in France,” which included a drawing of a Muslim fighter declaring, “Just wait—we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.” Just moments before the attack, staff at Charlie Hebdo Tweeted a cartoon featuring ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who issued best wishes for the new year.
Witnesses on the scene state that “[t]wo black-hooded men entered the building with Kalashnikovs” and were yelling the Islamic phrase “Allahu Ahkbar,” meaning “Allah is great.” Some also state that they heard the men declare, “The prophet has been avenged.”
Among those killed were Stephane Charbonnet, one of Charlie Hebdo’s editors who has faced death threats in the past, and Bernard Maris, a Bank of France economist who also served as a columnist at the paper. Three cartoonists were also shot to death, as well as two police officers and a guest. Eleven others were injured. Reports state that the gunmen specifically asked for some of their victims by name, targeting those who had participated in the creation or publication of materials mocking Mohammad.
The gunmen then took off in two separate vehicles, one of which was later found abandoned.
Following the incidents, by nightfall, gatherings of hundreds and thousands were held across France and other parts of Europe to mourn those who lost their lives and to express their support for freedom of speech. According to reports, an estimated 35,000 gathered at Place de La République in an act of solidarity. Similar but much smaller gatherings were also held in the United States.