An explosion occurred early Thursday at a kebab shop near a mosque in the eastern French town of Villefranche-sur-Saone, officials said, but left no casualties. “It is a criminal act,” a local official said, adding that a police investigation has been opened. No link was suggested with the deadly attack on Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo a day earlier, hindustantimes.com informs.
Earlier on the day, a policewoman and a city employee were seriously hurt after a man opened fire with an automatic rifle outside Paris, police said, but no link has yet been established with Wednesday’s deadly attack on a satirical magazine. Later in the day, the policewoman died in a hospital.
The gunman is still on the run, said interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve – who rushed to the scene at Malakoff just south of the city – contradicting information given earlier by a source close to the case, who said the suspect had been detained.
The incident comes on a day when a stunned and outraged France was in mourning, as security forces desperately hunted two brothers suspected of gunning down 12 people in a terror attack on a satirical weekly.
The massacre, the country’s bloodiest attack in half a century, triggered poignant and spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity around the world.
Shocked people from Moscow to Washington rallied in their tens of thousands under the banner “I am Charlie”, in support of press freedom and the controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine that has repeatedly lampooned the Prophet Mohammed.
Nearly 24 hours after the brazen daylight assault, the masked, black-clad gunmen – who shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest”) while killing some of France’s most outspoken journalists as well as two policemen – were still on the loose.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said seven people had been detained in the hunt for the brothers, and a judicial source who refused to be named added these were men and women close to the suspects.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, meanwhile, told French radio the two suspects were known to intelligence services and were “no doubt” being followed before Wednesday’s attack.
Police hunted on Thursday for the two heavily armed men, one with possible links to al Qaeda . France began a day of national mourning for what its president called “an act of exceptional barbarism.”
One of the suspects, Cherif Kouachi, had a history of funnelling jihadi fighters to Iraq and a terrorism conviction from 2008. He and his brother, Said, should be considered “armed and dangerous,” French police said in a bulletin early Thursday, appealing for witnesses after a fruitless search in the city of Reims, in French Champagne country.
A third man, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at a police station in a small town in the eastern region after learning his name was linked to the attacks in the news and social media, said Paris prosecutor’s spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre. She did not specify his relationship to the Kouachi brothers.
France raised its terror alert system to the maximum and bolstered security with more than 800 extra soldiers to guard media offices, places of worship, transport and other sensitive areas. A nationwide minute of silence was planned for noon.
One police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said the suspects were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network. Cedric Le Bechec, a witness who encountered the escaping gunmen, quoted the attackers as saying: “You can tell the media that it’s al-Qaida in Yemen.”
In a somber address to the nation Wednesday night, French President Francois Hollande pledged to hunt down the killers, and pleaded with his compatriots to come together in a time of insecurity and suspicion. “Let us unite, and we will win,” he said. “Vive la France!”
Thousands of people later jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor the victims, waving pens and papers reading “Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie.” Similar rallies were held in London’s Trafalgar Square as well as Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels.
“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.
Hollande ordered flags to fly at half-mast for three days in France and was due to convene an emergency cabinet meeting at 8:30 am.
A minute’s silence was to be observed across the country at midday, after which the bells of Paris’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral will sound out across the capital.
“Nothing can divide us, nothing should separate us. Freedom will always be stronger than barbarity,” said the president, calling for “national unity.”
“Several terrorist attacks had been foiled in recent weeks,” Hollande said.
US President Barack Obama led the global condemnation of what he called a “cowardly, evil” assault. Pope Francis described it as a “horrible attack” saying such violence, “whatever the motivation, is abominable, it is never justified”.
Visiting the scene, the imam of the Drancy mosque in the northern suburbs of Paris, Hassen Chalghoumi, called the shooters “barbarians”.
Meanwhile, cartoonists reacted as they know best, composing biting and mocking satirical drawings against what editorialists said was an attack on the very foundations of democracy.
Among the cartoons that went viral online was one by Australia’s David Pope: a picture of a gunman with a smoking rifle standing over a body, bearing the caption “He drew first”.
France’s media erupted in fury at the massacre of their colleagues, with the daily Liberation running the headline ‘We are all Charlie” — a line repeated in many other papers and echoed online with the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.
Business daily Les Echos urged people to face up to “barbarism”, publishing the last cartoon written by one of those killed in the attack. “The hooded bastards declared war on France, on our democracy, on our values,” the paper said in an editorial.
No reason for concern in Romania, Prosecutor General says
The Prosecutor General la Romania, Tiberiu Nitu, said on Thursday there is no reason for concern in Romania after the Paris killings, adding there are no files on terrorism at the Prosecutor’s Office with the Supreme Court. “It’s a very good thing we have no files for the moment. We’ve had a couple of files, but not as serious as compared to what happened in Paris. When you have ongoing files it means you are struggling, not having files means we have an efficient and very good prevention. There’s no reason for concern,” Tiberiu Nitu said.
The Prosecutor General with the Prosecutor’s Office upon the High Court for Cassation and Justice (Supreme Court – our note) added that specialized services in preventing and anticipating terrorism acts are doing a very good job.
“We assure you that, on condition the specialized services are doing their job properly, we fully support their activities,” Nitu said.