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Hunt for the Charlie Hebdo killers continues as another police officer killed in France

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Posted at 6:52 AM, Jan 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-08 06:52:46-05

PARIS (CNN) — Even as a nationwide hunt continues for two men who attacked French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, another tense confrontation unfolded for police in the southern suburbs of Paris on Thursday morning.

A police officer was shot there, and she died. And about 20 heavily armed police have an apartment building surrounded, pushing crowds back from the area.

Witnesses said the gunman, dressed in black like the Charlie Hebdo attackers and apparently wearing a bulletproof vest, got out of a car as police officers were dealing with a traffic accident and fired at two of them. The suspect hasn’t been captured.

It is unclear whether Thursday’s shooting in the Montrouge suburb is related to the Wednesday attack.

Police have arrested several people in connection with the shooting at the offices of France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine in central Paris, in which 12 people were killed and 11 wounded.

But the prime suspects in Wednesday’s brazen attack, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, remain on the run.

Police fanned out across France on Thursday, looking for the pair. A third suspect turned himself in.

“They are still free, they are heavily armed, so we can be afraid of further violence,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in an interview with French broadcaster RTL.

Crowds gathered in the rain in Paris to mark a moment’s silence to honor those killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine. Many held up media passes and broke into applause as the silence ended. The bells of Notre Dame Cathedral tolled across the city. French President Francois Hollande observed the minute of silence from the police headquarters in Paris. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on “civilized people,” whatever their faith, to unite “against barbarism” after the attack. The two police officers killed in the Wednesday attack have been identified as Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro.

‘Their only mistake’

The two masked men apparently left behind a getaway car, which police impounded. CNN affiliate BFMTV reported that police found an identification card of one of the Kouachi brothers during their investigations.

“It was their only mistake,” said Dominique Rizet, BFMTV’s police and justice consultant, reporting that the discovery helped the investigation.

The Kouachi brothers returned from war-torn Syria in the summer, USA Today reported without saying where it got the information.

Officials were running their names through databases to look for connections with ISIS and al Qaeda. The suspects were known to security services, Valls said.

A third suspect, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, has turned himself in to police, a source close to the case told the AFP news agency. Mourad did so late Wednesday after seeing his name mentioned on social media, the source said.

Lunchtime attack

The victims may have been killed over cartoons the satirical magazine published lampooning the Muslim prophet, Mohammed.

The magazine is known for its irreverence toward religion, society and politics. Its offices were fire-bombed in 2011, on the same day the magazine was due to release an issue with a cover that appeared to poke fun at Islamic law.

On Wednesday, gunmen ran into the building housing Charlie Hebdo’s offices, not far from the famed Notre Dame Cathedral and the Place de la Bastille.

On their way into the building, they asked exactly where the offices were. The men reportedly spoke fluent French with no accent.

They barged in on the magazine’s staff, while they were gathered for a lunchtime editorial meeting. The gunmen separated the men from the women and called out the names of cartoonists they intended to kill, said Dr. Gerald Kierzek, a physician who treated wounded patients and spoke with survivors.

The shooting was not a random spray of bullets, but more of a precision execution, he said.

It was the deadliest attack in Europe since July 2011, when Anders Behring Brevik killed 77 people in attacks on government buildings in Oslo, Norway, and at a youth camp on the island of Utoya.

Avenging the prophet

In Paris on Wednesday, journalist Martin Boudot was working nearby when the attack happened.

Boudot and his colleagues made a mad dash for the roof. They didn’t know what to do.

“We knew that there were victims a few meters away from us, but there might be, you know, some explosives somewhere or maybe a third guy,” Boudot said.

Cell phone cameras caught two gunmen as they ran back out of the building, still firing. One of them ran up to a wounded man lying on a sidewalk, who appeared to wear a dark blue uniform. The gunman shot him point-blank.

The two said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed and shouted “Allahu akbar,” which translates to “God is great,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said.

‘Parisians will not be afraid’

Cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier — “Charb” for short — was killed. He was the magazine’s editor. Three other well-known cartoonists, known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous, were also shot dead.

On Wednesday night, Parisians poured into streets in hordes.

At an event in Paris’ Place de la Republique, demonstrators held up pens and chanted, “We are Charlie!”

Similar demonstrations took place in other cities, including Rome, Berlin and Barcelona.

“Parisians will not be afraid,” said Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman. “We will fight terrorism with our common values, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press.”

On Thursday, the victims’ names were splashed across newspapers as heroes for freedom of expression. “Liberty assassinated.” “We are all Charlie Hebdo,” the headlines blared.

Hollande declared Thursday a national day of mourning.

Klugman, the deputy mayor, said flags were flying at half-staff on public buildings, events had been canceled and any celebrations canceled.

“It’s very unusual. I can’t remember such a day since 9/11,” he said. “The country really is in a kind of shutdown in respect and memory of the 12 people killed yesterday.”

Pope Francis prayed Thursday for the victims of the attack, the Vatican said. The attack “brings to mind so much cruelty — human cruelty.”