One of the suspects in the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine has been killed and the two others are in custody, two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
Authorities earlier had identified the three men as Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, both French and in their early 30s, and Hamyd Mourad, 18, whose nationality wasn’t immediately clear.
One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told The Associated Press that the men were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network. Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq’s insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Twelve people were killed in the attack by gunmen, armed with AK-47s, who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has enraged Muslims for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
On their way in, they killed a maintenance worker, then stormed into an editorial meeting, where they killed eight journalists.
A source familiar with the investigation told NBC News that the men targeted those magazine employees who had created or published cartoons showing Muhammad — asking for their victims by name. They executed editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, popularly known as Charb; Bernard Maris, a Bank of France economist who was a columnist for the magazine; and three cartoonists.
A security officer and a guest were also gunned down. As they fled, they killed a second police officer. Eleven other people were injured, four of them critically, officials said.
Because the masked, black-clad gunmen attacked with militaristic precision and left the scene with shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” the killers were suspected to be well-trained Islamic extremists.
Little information was immediately available about Mourad and Said Kouachi, but Cherif Kouachi has been suspected of involvement in terrorist groups for at least a decade. In January 2005, he and another French national were arrested in Paris as they were planning to fly to Iraq via Syria. Kouachi was described at the time as one of two deputies to the leader of an operation to send young volunteers to Iraq to fight U.S.-led forces.
Authorities linked the operation to the 19th Arrondissement Network, named for the Paris district where it was based, which is home to many Muslim families with roots in France’s former North African colonies. Kouachi was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison, 18 months of which were suspended.
The Associated Press quoted Cherif Kouachi in 2008 as saying he’d been motivated by outrage at images of torture of Iraqi inmates at the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib. “I really believed in the idea,” it quoted him as saying.
While authorities hunted the suspects Wednesday, shock and mourning spread across Paris and the rest of France, a country with an estimated 5 million Muslims. France has a long, troubled relationship with its Arab immigrants and a more recent history of unrest among young native-born Muslims. There has been growing concern about young men and women returning to France after joining jihadist activity in the Middle East.
Thousands of Parisians took to the streets in spontaneous and defiant demonstrations of unity. They lighted candles and held signs declaring “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) in reference to the magazine. At the Place de la Republique, they crammed themselves up onto the monument in the middle of the square and chanted “Charlie! Liberty!” Candles, posters and signs covered the three statues representing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity — the bedrock of French values.
“They want to scare French citizens and prohibit any criticism of religion, so here we are to remind them that religion can be freely criticized,” said Sasha Reingewirtz, 28, president of the Jewish Students Union.
President Francois Hollande declared Thursday a day of national mourning and called for a minute of silence at noon. Flags will fly at half-staff for three days. The government raised its terrorism threat level to its highest grade and announced that security forces would be deployed at media outlets, major shopping venues, sites of religious worship and transportation networks in the Paris region.
Gold Goliath is not your typical gold dealer.