Two masked attackers carrying machine guns and rocket launchers reportedly robbed a gas station 50 miles northeast of Paris on Thursday, prompting French authorities to investigate whether it was linked to the 'Charlie Hebdo' massacre. VPC

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00:08 Two masked attackers carrying a machine guns reportedly robbed a
00:12 gas station fifty miles northeast of Paris on Thursday prompting French
00:17 authorities to investigate whether it was linked to that Charlie had
00:21 a master car. French news magazine Le point reported that the
00:24 suspects seem to correspond to the Brothers suspected of carrying out
00:28 the attack on the Paris based terrico magazine on Wednesday. The
00:33 Associated Press reported police swarmed the gas station and and helicopters
00:37 hovered above the site. The AFP news agency stated a source
00:42 as saying that two men were ballot cloud leg and held
00:45 automatic guns and visible rocket launchers.






Poolice cordoned off an Avia gas station in Villers-Cotterets, where two armed suspects from the attack on French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo were spotted in a gray Clio.(Photo: Francois Becker, AFP/Getty Images)



PARIS Thousands of heavily armed French police conducted house-to-house searches Thursday in a heavily forested area north of Paris where two suspects wanted for the terrorist killings at a satirical newspaper were reported seen and may have robbed a gas station.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls put the Picardy region, which stretches to the English Channel, on the highest alert level, on par with the alert in effect for the entire Ile-de-France region that includes Paris.

France's Interior Ministry said 88,000 people have been deployed in the massive manhunt for Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, who are suspected of killing 12 people in the assault on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

As possible sightings accumulated Thursday, police in tactical assault gear went door to door in the village of Corcy, northeast of Paris, France24 reports. The fugitives described by authorities as "armed and dangerous" were also reported to have been spotted near the small town of Villers-Cotterts, about an hour's drive northeast of Paris, AFP reported.

In the village of Longpont, which is located in a heavily forested area, hotel owner Benoit Verdun said police had launched a major operation, Sky News reports.

"There are lots of policemen. I can see a huge police car," he tells Sky News. "They are asking people 'have you seen anybody?' They have big guns with them. The forest is bigger than Paris it is very big and very wide."

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Longpont is near the site of a gasoline station where a clerk reported he had been robbed Thursday by two armed men fitting the description of the suspects. The clerk told police the pair were driving a gray Citroen with blacked out license plates, France24 reported. The reported stickup prompted police in armored vehicles and helicopters to swarm the area, and cordon off the gasoline station.

On Wednesday, the gunmen wearing hoods and carrying Kalashnikov rifles burst into the editorial offices of the newspaper and opened fire in what they shouted was a mission to avenge the publication of cartoons denigrating the prophet Mohammed. They fled in a stolen car, eventually disappearing into the countryside north of Paris.

Valls reported "several arrests" overnight, most of them acquaintances of the Kouachi brothers, according to Reuters.

The third main suspect in Wednesday's attack, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at a police station late Wednesday in Charleville-Mezieres, a small town in France's eastern Champagne region, Paris prosecutor's spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said.

The police operations came as France observed a day of national mourning over Wednesday's horrific attack that left eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor dead and wounded 11 people, four of them seriously.

The nation raised its terror alert system to the maximum and bolstered security with more than 800 extra soldiers guarding media offices, places of worship, transport and other sensitive areas.

No group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack. A tweet from an al-Qaeda representative said the group was not claiming responsibility for the attack, but called it "inspiring."

One police official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is 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-Qaeda in Yemen."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Paris this weekend to attend a Sunday International Ministerial meeting. The meeting, called in response to the attacks, is being convened by the French Minister of Interior. The meetings will include discussions on addressing terrorist threats, foreign fighters and countering violent extremism

People hold signs in Paris on Jan. 8, 2015, as they observe a minute of silence for the victims of an attack by armed gunmen on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.(Photo: Loic Venance, AFP/Getty Images)


PARIS PAUSES TO REMEMBER VICTIMS

At noon, the Paris metro area came to a standstill as crowds that gathered near Notre Dame cathedral fell silent to honor Wednesday's victims.

Onlookers wept while listening to bells peal at Notre Dame, and the rector of the Paris Mosque called on Muslims to observe the moment of silence and honor victims of the "exceptional violence."

The lights on the Eiffel Tower were switched off briefly Thursday evening to honor the victims.

"Since yesterday, the rallies across France have once again showed that our country, our great France, will unite to defend its ideals, ideals of the republic, ideals of peace in the face of those who attempt to kill journalists and policemen," French President Hollande said Thursday.

He said the country has been "struck in the heart" of its capital city.

A moment of silence was held in Paris to honor the 12 people that were killed when gunmen opened fire at Charlie Hebdo's Parisian headquarters. USA TODAY's Kim Hjelmgaard reports there is still a heavy police presence in the area. VPC




Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgos called for residents to gather again at Place de la Republique, the scene of a vast and mostly silent demonstration of solidarity on Wednesday.

French citizens from a wide spectrum of age, ethnic and religious groups condemned the assault that has rocked the country.

"The tone has been very somber, " said Danite Airfane, 21, of Paris, an intern at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. "At the ICC we observed a moment of silence at noon."

She said she felt safe as beefed up security has meant "police cars on almost every block."

"There were demonstrations in half of the city," Airfane said. "There were no Islamophobic currents in the demonstrations and solidarity for the families."

Rescue workers evacuate an injured person near the site of a shooting in Montrouge, south of Paris, on Thursday.(Photo: Thomas Samson, AFP/Getty Images)


NEW SHOOTING

Police were investigating the death of a policewoman killed in a shooting in southern Paris on Thursday. No link to Wednesday's rampage has been established, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

The officer had stopped to investigate a traffic accident when the firing started, Cazeneuve said. A street sweeper was also seriously wounded in the attack.

Cazeneuve, who left an emergency government meeting to travel to the scene of Thursday's shooting, said authorities are doing their utmost to identify and arrest the attacker, who remains at large.

Another police officer in Paris was killed in a shooting Thursday morning as a manhunt for two of the gunmen suspected in an attack on French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' continued. VPC




Doug Stanglin reported from McLean, Va., Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara, Kevin Johnson and William Cummings, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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