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Charlie Hebdo: French police corner suspects outside Paris; hostage taken

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Charles Platiau/Reuters

(Read caption) Pictures of cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous and Charb are displayed Friday at the scene where a policeman was killed after the deadly attack at the Paris offices of weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The two main suspects in the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killings were sighted on Friday in the northern French town of Dammartin-en-Goele where at least one person had been taken hostage, a police source said.

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French police have surrounded a printing house in a village outside Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport where the two brothers suspected in the Charlie Hebdo attack escaped to after earlier hijacking a car and kidnapping a hostage.

Thousands of security forces are in Dammartin-en-Goele, 22 miles northeast of Paris, to capture the men suspected of carrying out France’s deadliest terrorist attack in a generation – and bring an end to the three-day manhunt that has kept much of the country on edge.

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The BBC reports that shots have been fired and several people have been wounded in Dammartin-en-Goele as the operation gets underway. Police and anti-terrorism officers have sealed off the town of about 8,000 and asked residents to stay home and for schoolchildren to remain at school.

Police and town officials confirmed with the Associated Press that there appeared to be one hostage inside the building with the brothers. But authorities have yet to confirm or release the identity of the hostage. Authorities have made phone contact with the suspects. 

In another incident, a different gunman has taken a hostage at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, Haaretz reports. The BBC reports that French authorities believe the gunman may have shot a policewoman on Thursday and that the killing, initially seen as isolated, may be related to the Charlie Hebdo plot. Police are evacuating the area. 

The two brothers on the run, Cherif and Said Kouachi, were named as suspects after Said's ID card was found in their abandoned getaway car. Both are French-born son of Algerian parents.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said intelligence officials were aware of both suspects before they attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hedbo, a satirical magazine that caricatured the prophet Muhammad. Twelve people were killed in Wednesday's deadly assault, including the magazine's editor and two police officers.

Meanwhile, information about the two brothers’ radicalism continues to emerge. As the AP reports:

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. Witnesses said he claimed allegiance to the group during the attack.

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.

With anti-Muslim sentiments already on the rise across Europe, experts in France say the continent’s leaders need to be inclusive in their response to Wednesday’s attack.

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But The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana reports that the attack has “given new fodder to Europe's burgeoning populist movements – in a way that could prevent mainstream leaders from easing the tensions in their countries magnified by the assault on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.”

Rising resentments across Europe call for leaders to act inclusively against Islamophobia, experts say. But the Continent's populist swing, already eating away at support for mainstream parties, could extract a greater political cost than European leaders are willing to make.

“What happened was so tragic that it will have a lot of direct and indirect impact, not just in France but for actually the whole world,” says Ralf Melzer, who monitors extremism for the Berlin-based nonprofit Friedrich Ebert Foundation “It will be [used] as the latest proof for populists."

Local media have already reported isolated incidents of violence against Muslims in France since Wednesday, including attacks on several mosques. In an apparent attempt to ease simmering tensions, President Francois Hollande was expected to invite Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, to his Elysee Palace on Friday, Reuters reports.