A pair of heavily armed brothers suspected in the deadly storming of a satirical newspaper were cornered inside a printing house near Charles de Gaulle airport on Friday and appear to have taken a hostage, officials said.
Hundreds of French security forces backed by a convoy of ambulances streamed into the small industrial town northeast of Paris in a massive operation to seize the men suspected of carrying out France's deadliest terror attack in decades.
At least three helicopters hovered above the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, near Charles de Gaulle airport. Two runways were closed to arrivals to avoid interfering in the standoff, an airport spokesman said. Schools went into lockdown.
Shots were fired as the brothers stole a car in the early morning hours, said a French security official.
Tens of thousands of French security forces have mobilized to prevent a new terror attack since the Wednesday assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the heart of Paris left 12 people dead, including the chief editor and cartoonist who had been under armed guard with threats against his life after publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. His police bodyguard also died in the attack, which unfolded during an editorial meeting.
ID card left in getaway car
Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi were named as the chief suspects after one of the two apparently left Said's identity card behind in their abandoned getaway car. The pair were holed up Friday inside CTF Creation Tendance Decouverte. Xavier Castaing, the chief Paris police spokesman, and town hall spokeswoman Audrey Taupenas, said there appeared to be one hostage inside the printing house.
Christelle Alleume, who works across the street, said that a round of gunfire interrupted her coffee break Friday morning.
"We heard shots and we returned very fast because everyone was afraid," she told i-Tele. "We had orders to turn off the lights and not approach the windows."
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said both men were known to intelligence services.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to join extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there.
The younger brother, Cherif, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for his links to a network sending jihadis to fight American forces in Iraq.
Both were also on the U.S. no-fly list, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. The American officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.
French President Francois Hollande called for tolerance after the country's worst terrorist attack in decades.
"France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty — and thus of resistance — breathed freely," Hollande said.
Nine people, members of the brothers' entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly assault on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, were questioned for information on the attackers, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement.
A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.
The Kouachi brothers — born in Paris to Algerian parents — were well-known to French counterterrorism authorities. Cherif Kouachi, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq.
Special edition of magazine planned
Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures. The weekly paper had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and a sketch of Islamic State's leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Nothing has been tweeted since.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack.
Illustrator François Maumont posted his message of 'courage' for those affected by the Charlie Hebdo shootings Jan. 7, 2015. News of the deadly attack in Paris hit close to home for political cartoonists and other illustrators, who posted their reactions to the violent deaths of their fellow artists.
Charlie Hebdo planned a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.
Editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who was among those slain, "symbolized secularism ... the combat against fundamentalism," his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, said on BFM-TV.
"He was ready to die for his ideas," she said.
Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadis trained in warfare. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria — headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have threatened France — home to Western Europe's largest Muslim population.
The French suspect in a deadly 2014 attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium had returned from fighting with extremists in Syria; and the man who rampaged in southern France in 2012, killing three soldiers and four people at a Jewish school, received paramilitary training in Pakistan.