Published: Thursday 8th January 2015 by The News Editor
French police say they have identified three men as suspects in the deadly attack on a French satirical magazine which killed 12 people.
The suspects were named as brothers Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, French nationals in their early 30s, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality is unclear.
One official said the men were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network.
France’s president Francois Hollande has declared a national day of mourning today following the bloody raid on the Paris headquarters of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which angered some Muslims after publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
In the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee Cobra today, while Prime Minister David Cameron has offered the assistance of British spies to help French agencies investigate the atrocity.
Hundreds of people filled London’s Trafalgar Square at a silent vigil for those killed at the massacre and there were similar scenes in Paris and other French cities.
Many held pens, pencils and notebooks in the air to show their solidarity for the journalists and police murdered at Charlie Hebdo.
Others held aloft makeshift placards reading “Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie”.
One of the suspects in the attack, Cherif Kouachi, was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq’s insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The Prime Minister said he had offered Mr Hollande “any assistance our intelligence agencies can give” following the “barbaric” raid at Charlie Hebdo.
The Queen sent her “sincere condolences” to the victims’ relatives.
At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Downing Street, Mr Cameron said the two leaders had been briefed on the situation by the British security agencies.
The pair also spoke to Mr Hollande from the Prime Minister’s office in No 10, a call Mrs Merkel described as a “very moving moment”.
Although it is unusual for a foreign leader to be given a briefing by the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, Downing Street said it was “not unprecedented”.
The 10-minute briefing was based on what the intelligence agencies had been able to piece together so far from open source material, and highlighted the calm, determined and apparently professional way the killers had carried out the assault.
The Prime Minister said: “This is different from some of the plots that we have seen here in the UK from so-called home-grown terrorists.”
The UK was “already at a very high state of alert” and the security services were looking at what more could be done, he said, “but there is no one single answer to these appalling terrorist attacks”.
Defending the right to free speech he said: ” We should be very clear this day that these values that we have are not sources of weakness for us, they are sources of strength.
“Of course there are all sorts of economic things we have to get right but, as we do that, the countries that succeed in the future I think will be those that stick to the values of freedom, of democracy, of the rule of law.
“Those are part of the things that make our economies and our societies and our political systems strong and powerful and good and we must not give those up.”
But Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the attack was the result of “having a fifth column” living in Western countries opposed to their ideals.
He said the attack was “truly horrific” and had “some very worrying implications for our civilisation – free speech, satire, all things that Western countries believe in and love and have enjoyed for centuries”.
He told Channel 4 News: “There is a very strong argument that says that what happened in Paris today is a result – and we’ve seen it in London too – is a result I’m afraid of now having a fifth column living within these countries.
“We’ve got people living in these countries, holding our passports, who hate us.
“Luckily their numbers are very, very small but it does make one question the whole really gross attempt at encouraged division within society that we have had in the past few decades in the name of multiculturalism.”
The dead are reported to include the magazine’s editor Stephane “Charb” Chabonnier, and two policemen.
Cartoonists Jean Cabu, Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac and Georges Wolinski and economist Bernard Maris were also reported to be among the dead.
Mr Charbonnier was included in a 2013 Wanted Dead Or Alive For Crimes Against Islam article in Inspire, the terrorist propaganda magazine published by al Qaida.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard, who was in London at the time of the attack, spoke of his shock.
He told France Inter: “I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”
He said the magazine had not received threats of violence: “Not to my knowledge, and I don’t think anyone had received them as individuals, because they would have talked about it. There was no particular tension at the moment.”
Witnesses at the magazine headquarters described a scene of carnage, with bullet holes and smashed windows.
Survivor and Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne “Coco” Rey was quoted by French newspaper L’Humanite as saying: “I had gone to collect my daughter from day care and as I arrived in front of the door of the paper’s building two hooded and armed men threatened us. They wanted to go inside, to go upstairs. I entered the code.
“They fired on Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I sheltered under a desk … They spoke perfect French … claimed to be from al Qaida.”
Gilles Boulanger, who works in the same building, likened the scene to a war zone.
“A neighbour called to warn me that there were armed men in the building and that we had to shut all the doors,” he said.
“And several minutes later there were several shots heard in the building from automatic weapons firing in all directions.
“So then we looked out of the window and saw the shooting was on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, with the police. It was really upsetting. You’d think it was a war zone.”
The masked gunmen armed with automatic rifles who carried out the attack were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest – as they stormed the office before firing indiscriminately, killing a number of the publication’s staff and two police officers.
The attackers also reportedly shouted: “We have avenged the prophet.” No group has yet claimed responsibility for the atrocity.
Chilling footage taken by terrified witnesses from windows and on rooftops overlooking the scene showed the terrorists shooting one of their victims, who appears to be in a police uniform, in cold blood at close range as he lay already injured on a pavement of the otherwise deserted Paris street. A bullet-ridden Police Nationale vehicle was left nearby.
Published: Thursday 8th January 2015 by The News Editor